That went insanely hard.
I never knew how much I needed the Celtics to start hacking Andre Drummond to extend their 32-point lead in the fourth quarter. I never knew how much I needed to relentlessly scoreboard-watch on a Tuesday night, begging the Charlotte Hornets to score some points and for the Brooklyn Nets to get it together… but not too together.
And I never knew I’d be begging for Svi Mykhailiuk and Co. to hang onto a 23-point lead to give the Celtics a chance at the knockout round of the In-Season Tournament. That was so, totally awesome, and the Celtics completed step one of their quest for the NBA Cup. If all of that sounds like a dead language from ancient Mesopotamia, let me quickly run you through the basics.
In order to clinch Group C, the Celtics needed to beat the Bulls by 23 or more (check), while the Brooklyn Nets needed to win by eight fewer points than the Celtics won by (check). Had the Nets lost, the Orlando Magic would have won the head-to-head tiebreaker with Boston. But since the Nets hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Magic, their win triggered the second-level tiebreaker: point differential, which the Celtics own.
If that still sounds Mesopotamian (or just don’t care), the Celtics are into the bracket. Time to pop the champagne, so let’s celebrate by watching this Sam Hauser put-back dunk:
Tuesday night was possibly my favorite night of regular season basketball ever. As always, the Celtics came in with one job: win the game. But last night specifically, that job came with like twenty other optional side quests, and by the fourth quarter the Celtics were basically playing a different sport.
Because of various wild-card scenarios, the Celtics were in effect playing against four teams at once. They needed to beat the Bulls by 23, but also the Knicks by 18 and the Nets by eight. And they also needed the Nets to win, so they were somehow playing the Raptors, too. What continent am I on right now?
I was absolutely locked in for it, and apparently so was everybody else. It brought out a weird side of the NBA I didn’t even know was there, and I was so here for sweating out 23-point blowouts on a Tuesday in November. Joe Mazzulla was ordering his team to intentionally foul Drummond up 30 with seven minutes left, and Bulls head coach Billy Donovan was furious.
That kind of behavior gets you fired if you coach high school basketball, but is apparently encouraged one night a year in the NBA. The Bulls clearly took offense to the Celtics’ antics, fighting tooth and nail to bring their margin of loss under 23, literally for no reason other than to get back at Boston. It was glorious, arresting television, and I was here for all of it.
Sweating out the bench boys holding the line with two minutes to go in a blowout is a completely new feeling for me, as was frantically flipping to the Nets-Raptors game to will the Nets to victory. Rooting for the Nets was an out-of-body experience considering all those years I prayed on their downfall for draft picks, so here’s a live re-enactment:
(Mikal Bridges corner three): “Take me home Mikal… TAKE ME HOME MIKAL!!!”
(OG Anunoby dives at Cam Johnson): “That’s a foul! That’s not a jump—he hugged him! That’s a foul!!”
(Royce O’Neal pump fake): “Shoot that Royce… hit that—hit it Royce… ROYCE! BIG SHOT ROYCE!!”
It was completely out of control. By the time the final buzzer sounded, my watch had told me to take a deep breath eleven times. Give me a second to collect myself.
Now that we’re all collected, let’s do some housekeeping. It’s important to note that the Celtics were given an unfair advantage over the Magic, as playing on the last day of group play meant knowing exactly how many points they needed to win by and adjust their strategy accordingly.
I’d be a little bitter if I was a Magic fan right now, especially since they beat the C’s straight up and still got eliminated. But I’m not a Magic fan, so I don’t care! Hahahaha—no. Stay collected.
What I do care about is how the Porzingis-less Celtics kicked it into a gear we hadn’t seen in a while. They didn’t so much put the pedal to the metal as they grabbed a cinder block and dropped it directly on the accelerator. It was all gas, no brakes for 48 minutes, and the Celtics looked certain of who they were for the first time all year.
They took all that certainty out on the Bulls, a team that might just suck. Until the Celtics made them mad by fouling Drummond, Chicago looked like a team that already knew half the team would be gone by the trade deadline. They checked out in the second quarter, and I would be shocked if any of their big-name assets are on the team in February.
And lastly, it looked like the NBA’s gamble that the players wouldn’t be able to resist caring about the In-Season Tournament paid off. For guys like Luke Kornet and Sam Hauser, that $500,000 prize really means something, and they played like it. Jaylen Brown clearly understood what it meant to his teammates, and cranked up the heat to environmentally irresponsible levels to ensure the blowout win.
I didn’t have to pay any extra for this, so I see this as nothing less than an absolute win. I had an amazing time Tuesday night, and I hope you did, too. The Celtics will play the Indiana Pacers in the quarterfinals, so once more unto the breach of the IST! Once more!