Since dropping their initially two video games of the growing season and losing prized free agent Gordon Hayward to injury, the Celtics have won 12 straight video games. It’s an improbable change of incidents for a workforce that was likely to sink in to the muck of mediocrity that is the East, but there are lots of indications that there’s something deeper happening here.
They’ll choose 13 Tuesday evening in Brooklyn before returning home to sponsor the Warriors about Thursday in what will be the biggest video game of the standard season to date. How did we arrive here? Let’s count the ways in this week’s List.
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It’s the defense. Back September when I caught up with Brad Stevens, I was astonished to hear him talk hence excitedly about his team’s defense. “We’re way forward defensively of where we thought we would be,” he explained. “I’m looking forward to this team defensively.”
OK, sure, but let’s discuss that offense again, Brad. With the additions of Hayward and Kyrie Irving, big issues were expected on that end of the floor. Our very own Mike Prada proceeded to go as far as to predict the Celtics would have the best offense in the whole freaking league. Without Hayward, the C’s are ideal around league common offensively, but it turns out Stevens was right about the defense.
They say defense wins games ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ pic.twitter.com/f72sQ6eyNE – Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 13, 2017
They overran the top spot in defensive rating a few video games into the season and have held steady ever since. It starts with Al Horford who’s been sensational. Marcus Wise and Terry Rozier are terrors on the ball and also Irving is engaged. It’s as well the scheme. They switch everything they have to switch with lengthy interchangeable forwards, which allows them to run teams off the 3-point line while cleaning up on the glass.
All of this offers been frankly astounding. Defense was supposed to be the team’s calling card last season however they were bad early on, better in the middle, and good enough at the end. On balance, they were mediocre and inconsistent. Can they hold this up? That’s the key question. It’s the defense which makes them legit.
They are huge. You don’t think of the Celtics as being a big workforce. There are no 7-footers on the roster, Horford plays a lot of center, plus they don’t possess a bruising power forward. However it’s their size that opponents mention first when preparing the scouting report.
What they have are hybrid wings who are longer and versatile. That displays a number of challenges for opposing offenses. Jaylen Dark brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Morris can all safeguard multiple positions, as can Wise and Rozier.
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That allows them to switch at will and keep clubs out of the paint where opposing ballhandlers are met with length, length, and more length. In addition they contest everything and generate a huge amount of steals. (Without a fast-paced workforce, they thrive in changeover.)
The Celtics go-to counter previous season was lineups featuring three guards, Horford, and Jae Crowder that attemptedto run much larger players off the court. Now Stevens can roll out lineups with both size and acceleration that don’t leave them exposed actually. They are a far more versatile team than last season.
They are deep. There is so much focus paid to the starting lineup both before and after Hayward received hurt that people overlooked the amount of depth lurking under the surface. Possibly without Hayward, the Celtics are 11-deep. No-one plays a lot more than 32 a few minutes a evening and Irving may be the only high usage player included in this. Beyond the Hayward and Irving additions, Danny Ainge got quite the summer.
Possibly the biggest revelation possesses been the center combination of Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis. Baynes supplies nasty brute power and selection out to 15 feet, as the long-limbed Theis offers paint safety and an awkwardly successful offensive game. They can both play with Horford, or carry down the center without him on to the floor making them a massive update over Amir Johnson and Tyler Zeller.
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Consider, as well, the contributions of Shane Larkin and Semi Ojeleye. A still-little journeyman who spent previous season in Europe, Larkin came up big in a win over Philly that kickstarted this steak and packed in admirably for Irving while top rated a comeback victory over Charlotte the other day. Ojeleye, a rookie second-round pick, plays such as a 10-calendar year vet. He’s handled big defensive assignments and knocked down 3’s at a good clip.
That’s where Stevens’ coaching gets lionized and rightly so. No-one is being asked to do too much. One night it could be Rozier who sparks the club off the bench, another video game might feature Theis. After that there’s Tatum, who is talented enough to become a late-game scoring alternative, but is one of seven players who needs at least nine pictures per game.
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That depth has allowed them to compensate for injuries to Horford and Irving during this winning streak. It will also keep them refreshing and engaged through the entire regular season.
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They rebound. That is, by far, the biggest difference from previous season’s workforce and the best indicator that this run is not as fluky as it might appear. The C’s were 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 got the worst rebounding time of his career this past year, can be 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 box out as aggressively as any workforce in the league and because they switch so much they are seldom caught behind the action recovering from double clubs. There are fewer cheap points to be had and they are so quickly and athletic they can still run in changeover without leaking out for quickly breaks.
It’s almost all connected, as they say.
The schedule has been kind: Behind every longer winning streak is a favorable slate of games and the C’s have played a comparatively comfortable schedule. They received the Kings and Knicks at low items and survived poor performances against the lowly Hawks and rebuilding Lakers. They received the Spurs on a well-timed back-to-again and the Raptors on a Sunday afternoon.
The competition will get tougher in December, however they don’t go directly to the west coast until January and you have to go all the way to March before they play more games on the road than at the Backyard in any given month. Nonetheless, they have notched several extraordinary wins including an 18-point second half comeback against Oklahoma Town, as well as victories over Eastern Meeting foes Philly, Milwaukee, Miami, and Orlando on the road. Laugh now, but all are practical playoff contenders.
We still don’t understand how great this Celtics can be, of lessons. We don’t know whether that protection will endure in a seven-video game series or whether their depth will matter as much in the playoffs when rotations acquire shorter. We don’t know if the rookies will be able to drive through the wall or perform beneath the harshest postseason pressure.
What this winning streak has taught us, nevertheless, is they are a legitimately good workforce with the inside track of locking up the very best spot in the Eastern Meeting again. That’s an amazing turnaround from opening night, nonetheless it should no longer be considered surprising.