10 Things Learned During the Celtics Win Streak
The Boston Celtics have been on a wild, improbable 16 game win streak over the last month. Here are 10 important developments over that time that somehow relate to its existence.
1. The Celtics Defense is Legit
Everyone who even has a whiff of what the Celtics have been doing over the last month is like “Yeah…duh” but it is still worth pointing out how good this defense has been. Start with the simple fact they held the Warriors to a mere 88 points with Golden State averaging 117 PPG as a team (more on this later) and the metrics become secondary to the results. The Boston defense is a whirring machine of aggression and flexibility, filled with players who were born to switch and terrorize. The C’s use a definite size advantage inside to allow players to take defensive risks along the perimeter. The speed of the outside players like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum along with the non-stop hustle of Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier has made things extremely difficult for teams that rely on small ball and open shooters on the wing. They are #1 with a defensive rating of 98.04 and the contributions are coming from everywhere. Boston has six players in the top 11 of defensive win shares and seven (7?!?!) players in the top-nine for defensive rating. Suffocating is a good word for what they do but the high level of activity without drawing fouls plays largely into their defensive success, a sign that despite the aggression of this team, they are also tempered and disciplined in the way they attack.
2. The International Members of the Front Court
With the exception of Al Horford, the Celtics front court players are not a sexy bunch in terms of name power unless you count Tommy Heinsohn’s remarks about catching a glimpse of Aron Baynes in the shower earlier this season. Either way, the Celtics front court is as Boston in personality as Boston gets despite the international ties of Daniel Theis (Germany) and Baynes (Australia). Rugged, bullish, and really, really big, the C’s front court uses sheer size to box out effectively, leaving clear lanes for the better rebounders to get to the basketball. Blue collar work ethic makes up for the lack of scoring in terms of Baynes and Theis, leaving Horford’s offensive prowess incalculable based on the other two’s lack of scoring production. Theis and Baynes are one and two in terms of ORG per game, escalating their worth with the ability to create second chance possessions for the C’s.
3. The Three… No, Four Comebacks
The C’s win streak has not been always easy as it has taken a couple of huge comebacks to keep it intact. Games on the road in Charlotte and OKC were near flops if it wasn’t for the team’s resilience in the face of huge double digit comebacks. The grit Boston showed in both wins was impressive to say the least but coming back after being down 17 TWICE against the Warriors is an incredible achievement. As I wrote this, the Celts were down 14 after the first quarter against the Atlanta Shitbirds (I mean Hawks) before rallying in the third quarter for the win. The Celtics “never say die” attitude is nothing new as their hardnosed ways have been stealing them wins they have no business getting since the Brad Stevens era began but with all the available weapons and scoring capable players now available in spades, the deficits, fluke or deserved, are no longer unsurmountable. This year’s team is showing opponents they cannot be complacent no matter what the lead as Boston has proved they are hungry and athletic enough to come back against anyone, even the defending champion Warriors. Speaking of which…
4. They Made the Warriors Look Mortal
I know the ref’s swallowed the whistles in this game but no matter how you cut it the Celtics made the Warriors frustrated and off balance during their yearly trip to the Garden. Holding a team that has scored 117 PPG to 88 paired with the two massive comebacks is proof the C’s can legitimately ball with Golden State. Even last year, when the Celtics were playing solid yet well above potential basketball, notching a win against Golden State was a miracle that should of never happened. Boston is 3-2 against the Warriors since the 15’-16’ season with a 2OT loss mixed in thanks to Brad Stevens having always been capable giving the Warriors fits. With his best team since becoming an NBA coach, is it possible with his strategy plus the team’s roster, the Celtics have found a way to consistently beat a team almost every other can’t? Steph and Klay were rendered useless for long stretches of Thursday’s game thanks to Smart, Brown, and Kyrie doing everything but punch them in the face. That forced KD to do most of the dirty work. The Celtics limited the use of the Warriors best players by forcing them into contested shots in uncomfortable areas along the outside and let KD, who can routinely score with no room to breathe, get his shots because he will anyway. Also, the C’s beat them up physically, something this Warriors team, historically, does not respond well against. Can’t wait for Round 2 in Oakland to see what kind of counter punch Steve Kerr employs.
5. LeBron’s Future in the East
Maybe this is premature but the fact is the Celtics will be the best team in the East, if not this year, definitely next. When Isaiah Thomas finally takes the floor in Cleveland, it may be enough to compete with the Celtics for the Eastern Conference title but who knows how long it will take for any real chemistry to develop. One person the Celtics official return to greatness has massive implications for is one LeBron James. With an aging team in Cleveland and no real chance of reloading in the near future, LeBron is faced with a major decision at the end of this season. Does he wait and see what kind of deal the Cavs front office can swing? Does he attempt to join one of the limited few semi-contenders in the East like Washington or Toronto? I would say probably not. The Celtics arrival as the East team of the future may signify LeBron’s departure to the West. I doubt highly LeBron would want to have to repeat his early career history of having the C’s terrorize his every chance of winning one more Finals in the golden years of his career and with an array of star stuffed squads in the West, James future lies somewhere over yonder, where his last years as a dominant force won’t be all for naught. Placing him in Houston or OKC or even LA alongside Paul George potentially would be the best move for the twilight of his career but as far as his days of Eastern Conference domination, the clock is ticking loudly. It seems LeBron will need a brand new time zone and city to have a chance at winning one more Finals.
6. World, Meet Jayson Tatum
The “experts” screamed and lauded the likes of Markell Fultz and Lonzo “I Brick Layups” Ball as the best picks in last year’s draft. One came from a losing team, the other was riding a hype train so long, nobody noticed LaVar pushing it all the way from the back until it was too late. The Celtics went with Jayson Tatum at the 3rd pick and the same front office that brought you such undervalued previous hits like Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier, pulled out what seems to be the pick of the litter. His presence in the loss of Gordon Hayward has been obviously instrumental in Boston’s win streak, unearthing a talent and maturity level well beyond his years at the tender age of 19. Other 19 year olds smoke a lot of pot and set leaf bags on fire before driving into them with a car or essentially what Ball does every night in NBA terms. OK, maybe that’s a bad, oddly specific comparison but Tatum is surely not your average rookie. As a first year player, Tatum is averaging 13.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, leading the team in 3P% by a full half point and is the best shooter in terms of FG% that doesn’t play underneath the basket. If there is one positive about Hayward’s injury, it’s the minutes and experience Tatum is getting. Outside of the stat sheet, Tatum looks like a veteran with his cagy sidesteps along the perimeter and his perma-chill vibe. Tatum didn’t have a lot of people talking about him with the exception of his teammates and coaches before the year began but in 17 games, Tatum has put the NBA on notice that he will be one of the leagues next superstars very soon
7. Horrible Hot Takes from Disembodied Voices
Everyone has opinions and in the 24-hour news cycle, everyone needs one about everything including the next roster moves for the Celtics. Listening to NBA Today on Sirius XM NBA Radio the day after the Celtics win vs. Golden State had me wanting to slam my first through the radio dial based on Eddie Johnson’s idea the Celtics need to move Tatum and Brown alongside a slew of picks to the New Orleans Pelicans for Anthony Davis. What? I’m sorry, Eddie. Did you just have a stroke? What good would this do the Celtics? Not that Davis is not an incredible one of a kind player but you currently have two good players that will probably become anywhere from very good to great in the next two years, on your payroll for next to nothing, with team options. Maybe in two or three years when the sheer math makes it impossible to sign both of these players back based on their trajectory, you entertain some kind of deal. But right now, looking like the best team in the East that can BEAT the Warriors, why would this idea cross anyone’s mind, even hypothetically?!?!? Anybody who thinks the Celtics should mortgage a bright future with the investment of a payroll heavy player to win now is not thinking clearly or possibly at all. Someone ask Eddie if he smells burnt toast.
8. Ball Movement
In all the focusing on the Celtics defense, one thing that has been overlooked during the streak is Boston’s insane ball movement. While really none of the current Celtics with the exception of Kyrie are normally heralded for their passing skills, what the Celtics do in the offensive zone is wizard like. Spinning outlets passes, one handed catch and pushes, going elbow to elbow, and blink-and-it’s-gone personal possessions; these are just a few of the insane things you’ll see on a nightly basis when the C’s set into their offense. Always unselfish and willing to make the next pass to find the open guy with dizzying, crisscross flair, the C’s set up game been more fun to watch than it rightfully should be but who cares: it’s just another part of what has helped them rip off 15 straight.
9. Brad Stevens Says They Haven’t Been that Good
Stevens told the press a day after the Golden State win, "We haven't played well enough to consider this win streak to be valid in my opinion. We've figured out ways to win games. We gotta play a lot better." Yeah, this kind of sounds crazy but looking at the evidence, it’s sort of true. Having to comeback several times, a couple of missed late shots by Toronto, OKC, and Golden State, bad first quarters; one of these items should have created a loss. There has been stretches of games Boston has been ice cold offensively but they were saved by defense on those nights and honestly they just got lucky in some cases. While this may be just a humblebrag on Stevens part there is truth to it and even if there isn’t, I like that Stevens thinks they can be better, making any regular human wonder what does Stevens anticipate for the ceiling of the this team?
10. They Created the Modern Day Rebuild Blueprint.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was this team. Many of the major pieces fell into place over the last 5 months or so but this team was long in the creation. From the fleecing of the Nets which led to Brown and Tatum to trading the team’s best player for a better one (IT for Kyrie) to picking up role players with massive potential in Smart and Rozier, everything the Celtics did over the past 4 years has led them here. I was broken hearted when they traded Avery Bradley but in getting Marcus Morris in return, the Celtics had the team’s best interest in mind by adding a spark plug big man that can shoot 3’s and do all the other things big men do like rebound and mug menacingly. Sometimes a team has to rip your guts out to show what was missing. The Celtics were in no rush to make trades for instant success. It was rumored that Jimmy Butler or Paul George would be headed to Boston in the middle of last year to win a title. There was no intention of winning a title in Boston at all until all bases were covered and every need filled with specific player types. And as a result of Danny Ainge and the front office not being trigger happy, they have created an organic team through the draft and plugged in the best players available when it made the most sense. Baseball teams have done this for years with teams like Houston and Kansas City winning the World Series by organically molding a core and spending the money on complimentary A+ players that fill small gaps, not entire needs. A lot of other NBA teams could learn a lot from the way the C’s approached their post-Big 3 future because as of right now, the future has arrived in Boston.