Since dropping their first two video games of the season and shedding prized free agent Gordon Hayward to harm, the Celtics have received 12 straight video games. It’s an unbelievable flip of occasions for a crew that was anticipated to sink into the muck of mediocrity that’s the East, however there are a number of indications that there’s one thing deeper taking place right here.
They’ll go for 13 Tuesday evening in Brooklyn earlier than returning dwelling to host the Warriors on Thursday in what would be the largest sport of the common season up to now. How did we get right here? Let’s rely the methods on this week’s List.
It’s the protection. Back in September after I caught up with Brad Stevens, I used to be shocked to listen to him discuss so excitedly about his crew’s protection. “We’re way ahead defensively of where we thought we would be,” he informed me. “I’m looking forward to this team defensively.”
OK, certain, however let’s speak about that offense once more, Brad. With the additions of Hayward and Kyrie Irving, massive issues have been anticipated on that finish of the ground. Our personal Mike Prada went as far as to foretell the Celtics would have the second-best offense in the entire freaking league.
Celtics generated 21 threes in that first half, many in half-court conditions. They ought to be the NBA’s second-best O this yr.
— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) October three, 2017
Without Hayward, the C’s are proper round league common offensively, but it surely seems Stevens was proper concerning the protection.
They took excessive spot in defensive ranking a number of video games into the season and have held regular ever since. It begins with Al Horford who’s been sensational. Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier are terrors on the ball and even Irving is engaged. It’s additionally the scheme. They swap every thing they should swap with lengthy interchangeable forwards, which permits them to run groups off the three-point line whereas cleansing up on the glass.
All of this has been frankly astounding. Defense was alleged to be the crew’s calling card final season however they have been dangerous early, higher within the center, and ok on the finish. On steadiness, they have been mediocre and inconsistent. Can they maintain this up? That’s the important thing query. It’s the protection that makes them legit.
They are enormous. You don’t actually consider the Celtics as being a giant crew. There aren’t any 7-footers on the roster, Horford performs a number of middle, they usually don’t have a bruising energy ahead. Yet it’s their dimension that opponents point out first when getting ready the scouting report.
What they’ve are hybrid wings who’re lengthy and versatile. That presents quite a few issues for opposing offenses. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Morris can all guard a number of positions, as can Smart and Rozier.
That permits them to modify at will and maintain groups out of the paint the place opposing ballhandlers are met with size, size, and extra size. They additionally contest every thing and generate a ton of steals. (While not a fast-paced crew, they thrive in transition.)
The Celtics go-to counter final season was lineups that includes three guards, Horford, and Jae Crowder who tried to run bigger gamers off the court docket. Now Stevens can roll out lineups with each dimension and velocity that don’t depart them uncovered bodily. They are a much more versatile crew than final season.
They are deep. There was a lot consideration paid to the beginning lineup each earlier than and after Hayward bought harm that we neglected the quantity of depth lurking beneath the floor. Even with out Hayward, the Celtics are 11-deep. No one performs greater than 32 minutes an evening, and Irving is the one excessive utilization participant amongst them. Beyond the Hayward and Irving additions, Danny Ainge had fairly the summer season.
Perhaps the largest revelation has been the middle mixture of Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis. Baynes provides nasty brute energy and vary out to 15 toes, whereas the long-limbed Theis gives paint safety and an awkwardly efficient offensive sport. They can each play with Horford, or maintain down the center with out him on the ground making them an enormous improve over Amir Johnson and Tyler Zeller.
Consider, as nicely, the contributions of Shane Larkin and Semi Ojeleye. A still-young journeyman who spent final season in Europe, Larkin got here up massive in a win over Philly that kickstarted this streak and crammed in admirably for Irving whereas main a comeback victory over Charlotte final week. Ojeleye, a rookie second-round decide, performs like a 10-year vet. He’s dealt with enormous defensive assignments and knocked down threes at a decent clip.
This is the place Stevens’ teaching will get lionized and rightly so. No one is being requested to do an excessive amount of. One evening it may be Rozier who sparks the membership off the bench, one other sport may characteristic Theis. Then there’s Tatum, who’s proficient sufficient to be a late-game scoring choice, however is one in all seven gamers who takes at the least 9 pictures per sport.
That depth has allowed them to compensate for accidents to Horford and Irving throughout this successful streak. It must also maintain them contemporary and engaged all through the common season.
They rebound. This is, by far, the largest distinction from final season’s crew and the most effective indicator that this run shouldn’t be as fluky as it would seem. The C’s have been such a foul rebounding crew final season that Stevens primarily conceded the glass and went small. Without a dominant rebounder on the roster, few noticed that altering coming into the season.
This has been nothing in need of an entire reversal. Horford, who had the worst rebounding season of his profession final yr, is gobbling up boards. Morris has been a monster on the glass. The backup bigs are each stable rebounders as are Brown and Tatum. The freakishly athletic Rozier lives to seize defensive boards.
This is really a team-wide concern that goes past particular person contributions. The C’s field out as aggressively as any crew within the league and since they swap a lot they’re not often caught behind the motion recovering from double groups. There are fewer low cost factors available and they’re so quick and athletic that they’ll nonetheless run in transition with out leaking out for quick breaks.
It’s all related, as they are saying.
The schedule has been sort: Behind each lengthy successful streak is a positive slate of video games and the C’s have performed a comparatively snug schedule. They bought the Kings and Knicks at low factors and survived poor performances towards the lowly Hawks and rebuilding Lakers. They bought the Spurs on a well-timed back-to-back and the Raptors on a Sunday afternoon.
The competitors will get more durable in December, however they don’t go to the West Coast till January and it’s important to go all the way in which to March earlier than they play extra video games on the street than on the Garden in any given month. Still, they’ve notched quite a few spectacular wins together with an 18-point second half comeback towards Oklahoma City, in addition to victories over Eastern Conference foes Philly, Milwaukee, Miami, and Orlando on the street. Laugh now, however all 4 are viable playoff contenders.
We nonetheless don’t understand how good this Celtics may be, in fact. We don’t know whether or not that protection will maintain up in a seven-game sequence or whether or not their depth will matter as a lot within the playoffs when rotations get shorter. We don’t know if the rookies will be capable of push by means of the wall or carry out below the harshest postseason stress.
What this successful streak has taught us, nonetheless, is that they’re a legitimately good crew with the within observe of locking up the highest spot within the Eastern Conference once more. That’s an incredible turnaround from opening evening, but it surely ought to not be thought-about shocking.