Here are 10 thoughts on the Celtics, with an extra emphasis on the In-Season Tournament and what it means moving forward …
▪ While the value of the In-Season Tournament is up for debate, there is no question that reaching the finals would be more grueling for the Celtics than any other team. They will leave for Indianapolis Sunday prior to Monday’s quarterfinal against the Pacers. If they win, they will fly to Las Vegas Tuesday. And that tournament does not end until Saturday night.
The Celtics would then return home to play four games in six days before taking another cross-country flight to San Francisco, where they will begin a weeklong Western Conference trip. That’s a lot of miles and time-zone changes.
If the Celtics had toppled the Bulls by 22 points or fewer Tuesday, they would simply have one home game and one road game next week, both within the conference. Of course, they could still just lose to the Pacers, in which case they would face the loser of the other conference quarterfinal between the Knicks and Bucks next Friday. That path would offer less wear and tear.
▪ There is also the matter of an imbalanced competition level. The quarterfinals and semifinals count as regular-season games. So the Celtics, in essence, will lose one home game with this setup while also facing tougher teams than, say, the 76ers, who will play the Wizards and Hawks in non-tournament games next week.
It remains to be seen whether this will have any effect on playoff seeding, but the strength of schedule could certainly be skewed.
▪ But it’s hardly all bad. In addition to the $500,000 prize to the players on the winning team, the Celtics could get to test themselves against strong opponents in a playoff atmosphere. There is value in that. It’s also just fun to win stuff.
▪ Al Horford’s averages after starting the last two wins in place of Kristaps Porzingis: 11 points, 12 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.5 blocks, 1.5 steals, 50 percent field goal shooting. Not bad.
▪ Jaylen Brown’s reputation for unsteady ballhandling causes the Garden crowd to audibly groan a bit when he starts trying to do too much. Interestingly, though, Jayson Tatum has been more careless with the ball over the first 18 games. He is averaging a career-high 3.2 turnovers and has had three games with six or more.
Brown, meanwhile, is averaging just 2.4 turnovers, along with a career-high 3.6 assists. Tatum is averaging 4.1 assists, his lowest mark since 2019-20.
Yes, Tatum is more of a high-usage player, and high use generally leads to more mistakes. But the usage rates of both players are in line with their career numbers. He has done a good job of making the right play out of double-teams over the last few years, but this season his passing has just been a bit off.
▪ It will be interesting to see whether the NBA tweaks the point-differential tiebreaker in next year’s In-Season Tournament. Teams have seemed genuinely conflicted about whether piling on points is unsportsmanlike or just simply following the rules.
Even after clinching their quarterfinal berth with a resounding win over the Bulls, Brown and Jrue Holiday said they did not feel good about running up the score. They said it just felt weird.
But there was a lot of confusion about the tiebreaking system and how teams would approach it. Even late in Tuesday’s game, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla walked toward Chicago’s bench and offered a quick tutorial on the scoring system when Bulls coach Billy Donovan was irked by the Celtics intentionally fouling Andre Drummond during a blowout.
“To me, it’s just weird because it’s new, it’s different,” Mazzulla said. “I truly love watching the European [soccer] tournaments and the style that they have. And so like five, six years from now, this is going to be just normal. And so it’s only weird because it’s new, and people have to get used to that.”
▪ At some point, the basketball world will stop being stunned when Sam Hauser plays good defense or dunks the ball. That day has not arrived yet, and his two-hand follow-slam after a Tatum missed 3-pointer Tuesday certainly was unusual, and it thrilled the Boston bench.
▪ The Celtics registered 36 assists against Chicago, their fifth-highest regular-season total since 2019-20. Those numbers are always going to tick up when 21 3-pointers go in, but it was still an encouraging development for a team that ranks just 23rd in assist rate, at 59.2 percent.
The Celtics have excellent isolation players, so it is unsurprising that they are not in the top half of the league in that category. And Mazzulla is not overly concerned about the willingness to share the ball. But he is a fan of pace.
“When we play faster, our assists naturally go up,” Mazzulla said. “I think an issue is when we play slower, we tend to attack the matchup, but it’s like off of one screen or one action.
“When you play faster, you get the kick-aheads and the kick-across and the kick-outs. So, yeah, I think the main way those go up is if we play faster, get to our spacing, make the right play.”
▪ It always felt as if this tournament would just kind of exist during group play and get extra sizzle when the elimination games brought a March Madness feel. The quarterfinals should be fun, but the semifinal scheduling is awkward. The first game in Las Vegas will be played at 5 p.m. next Thursday. Not exactly prime time for an event the league has been hyping for months.
▪ TD Garden magic might be back. The Celtics, who went just 5-6 at home during the playoffs last season, are 8-0 in Boston this year. Six of the wins have come by double digits.