Since dropping their first two game titles of the season and losing prized free agent Gordon Hayward to injury, the Celtics have won 12 straight game titles. It’s an improbable change of occurrences for a workforce that was expected to sink in to the muck of mediocrity this is the East, but there are several indications that there’s something deeper taking place here.
They’ll go for 13 Tuesday nights in Brooklyn before returning home to web host the Warriors about Thursday in what will be the biggest game of the standard season to date. How did we get here? Let’s count the ways in this week’s List.
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It’s the protection. Back September when I caught up with Brad Stevens, I was astonished to listen to him talk thus excitedly about his team’s protection. “We’re way in advance defensively of where we thought i would be,” he told me. “I’m looking forward to this team defensively.”
OK, sure, but let’s talk about that offense again, Brad. With the additions of Hayward and Kyrie Irving, big points were anticipated on that end of the ground. Our very own Mike Prada gone so far as to predict the Celtics would have the very best offense in the whole freaking group. Without Hayward, the C’s are right around group average offensively, but it turns out Stevens was right about the defense.
They say protection wins games ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ pic.twitter.com/f72sQ6eyNE – Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 13, 2017
They overran the top spot in defensive rating a few game titles into the season and also have held steady since. It starts with Al Horford who’s been sensational. Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier are terrors on the ball and actually Irving is engaged. It’s likewise the scheme. They switch everything they have to switch with extended interchangeable forwards, which allows them to run teams off the 3-point line while cleaning up on the glass.
All of this has been frankly astounding. Defense was said to be the team’s calling card last season however they were bad early, better in the middle, and good enough towards the end. On harmony, they were mediocre and inconsistent. Can they hold this up? That’s the main element question. It’s the protection that makes them legit.
They are huge. You don’t really think of the Celtics as being a big workforce. There are no 7-footers on the roster, Horford plays a whole lot of center, plus they don’t have a bruising electricity forward. However it’s their size that opponents mention first when preparing the scouting report.
What they have are hybrid wings who are long and versatile. That displays a number of complications for opposing offenses. Jaylen Dark brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Morris can all safeguard multiple positions, as can Smart and Rozier.
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That allows them to switch at will and keep clubs out from the paint where opposing ballhandlers are met with length, length, and more length. They also contest everything and generate a huge amount of steals. (While not a fast-paced workforce, they thrive in transition.)
The Celtics go-to counter previous season was lineups featuring three guards, Horford, and Jae Crowder that attemptedto run larger players off the court. Today Stevens can roll out lineups with both size and velocity that don’t leave them exposed actually. They are a a lot more versatile team than last season.
They are deep. There is so much interest paid to the beginning lineup both before and after Hayward got hurt that people overlooked the amount of depth lurking beneath the surface. Actually without Hayward, the Celtics are 11-deep. Nobody plays more than 32 mins a nights and Irving is the only high utilization player included in this. Beyond the Hayward and Irving additions, Danny Ainge acquired quite the summer.
Perhaps the biggest revelation has been the center mixture of Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis. Baynes products nasty brute strength and array out to 15 feet, as the long-limbed Theis gives paint safeguard and an awkwardly successful offensive game. They can both play with Horford, or keep down the center without him on the floor producing them a massive update over Amir Johnson and Tyler Zeller.
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Consider, aswell, the contributions of Shane Larkin and Semi Ojeleye. A still-fresh journeyman who spent previous season in Europe, Larkin emerged up big in a win over Philly that kickstarted this steak and stuffed in admirably for Irving while leading a comeback victory over Charlotte the other day. Ojeleye, a rookie second-round pick, plays such as a 10-time vet. He’s handled big protective assignments and knocked down 3’s at a respectable clip.
That’s where Stevens’ coaching gets lionized and rightly so. Nobody is becoming asked to do an excessive amount of. One night it may be Rozier who sparks the club off the bench, another game might feature Theis. Then there’s Tatum, who is talented enough to be a late-game scoring choice, but is one of seven players who needs at least nine shots per game.
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That depth has allowed them to compensate for injuries to Horford and Irving in this winning streak. It should also keep them fresh and engaged throughout the regular season.
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They rebound. That is, by far, the biggest difference from previous season’s workforce and the very best indicator that run isn’t as fluky as it might appear. The C’s had been such a terrible rebounding team last time that Stevens essentially conceded the glass and went small. Without a dominant rebounder on the roster, few saw that changing getting into the season.
This has been nothing short of a complete reversal. Horford, who acquired the worst rebounding time of his career last year, is certainly gobbling up boards. Morris is a monster on the glass. The backup bigs are both sound rebounders as are Dark brown and Tatum. The freakishly athletic Rozier lives to seize defensive boards.
This is a classic team-wide concern that goes beyond individual contributions. The C’s package out as aggressively as any workforce in the group and because they switch so much they are seldom caught behind the action recovering from double clubs. There are fewer low-cost points to be had and they are so quickly and athletic that they can still run in transition without leaking out for quickly breaks.
It’s all connected, as the saying goes.
The schedule has been kind: Behind every long winning streak is a good slate of games and the C’s have played a comparatively comfortable schedule. They got the Kings and Knicks at low points and survived poor performances against the lowly Hawks and rebuilding Lakers. They got the Spurs on a well-timed back-to-back and the Raptors on a Sunday afternoon.
The competition are certain to get tougher in December, however they don’t go directly to the west coast until January and you have to go completely to March before they play extra games on the highway than at the Lawn in virtually any given month. Even now, they have notched numerous impressive wins including an 18-point second half comeback against Oklahoma Metropolis, as well as victories over Eastern Meeting foes Philly, Milwaukee, Miami, and Orlando on the highway. Laugh now, but all are practical playoff contenders.
We still don’t know how great this Celtics can be, of study course. We don’t know whether that protection will endure in a seven-game series or whether their depth will subject as much in the playoffs when rotations acquire shorter. We don’t know if the rookies will be able to push through the wall or perform beneath the harshest postseason pressure.
What this winning streak has taught us, even so, is that they are a legitimately good workforce with the inside track of locking up the most notable place in the Eastern Meeting again. That’s an incredible turnaround from beginning night, but it should no much longer be considered surprising.