Boston

Don’t Look Now, But the Celtics Are…Good?

Watching the Celtics roll to 9-1 in their last 10 games (including a complete dismantling of the Sixers) with their only loss coming by one point, has me feeling like Austin in Not Another Teen Movie when he sees Janey Briggs’s “makeover.” Complete and utter shock. The makeover in this analogy being the Celtics’ renewed focus and tenacity on defense. After months of up and down play, has this team finally figured it out?

The Celtics are….good?

ESPN’s Zach Lowe seems to think so:

Boston is about to overtake the Golden State Warriors for No. 1 in defensive efficiency. Their starting five has allowed a bonkers 88.8 points per 100 possessions — easily the stingiest mark among lineups that have logged 100-plus minutes…Smaller groups with Time Lord as the only traditional big have been impenetrable; Boston’s potential new closing lineup — Smart, White, Brown, Tatum, Robert Williams — might be a problem…They are a threat to beat any conference rival in the playoffs..”

Anybody can cherry pick specific stats and point to a winning streak as reasons to be optimistic, but the Celtics weren’t exactly playing the Warriors and Bucks every night. The Ringer says the Celtics recent success goes beyond that though:

Sure, a favorable recent schedule helps, but point differential is a stronger predictor of future success than record, and the streaking Celtics now boast the best point differential in the conference, at plus-4.8 per game.

Already a defensively oriented team—the Celtics are up to second in the league in defensive rating, per CtG—Boston doubled down at the trade deadline. Individual defensive stats are squishy, but trade acquisition Derrick White ranks fourth in the entire league in defensive impact this season, according to estimated plus-minus. Boston now employs two guards who rank in the top 10. Good luck scoring against the Celtics’ new closing five.

I know the NBA is worlds different than it was back in 2007-08, but seeing the Celtics return to one of the toughest defenses in the league to play against has me clutching my beer stained Kevin Garnett jersey.

This team needs more than just a hot streak to turn their season around because we’ve seen chemistry issues for a couple of years now. It’s put up or shut up time for this group or else Brad Stevens will have every justification he needs to shake this team up in the offseason. But, can we please put to bed the narrative that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown don’t want to play together? Can they improve their ability to consistently play well at the same time rather than just watching each other go off for 30+ in alternating games? 100 percent. But splitting them up? Unless you’re getting an elite elite level talent like KAT then splitting up the Jays makes this team worse, and not in one of those addition by subtraction kind of ways. Most players in the league leave their current team so they can link up with another All-Star. That’s exactly what Tatum and Brown have here in each other. Even Tatum scoffed at the notion on JJ Reddick’s podcast recently.

Speaking of the chemistry issues this team has seen bubble to the surface, Tatum, also on Reddick’s podcast, addressed the comments Marcus Smart made early in the season calling out him and Jaylen Brown.

While Tatum didn’t address the comments for several days in the aftermath, he said a meeting with Marcus Smart at the practice facility ended up getting everyone on the same page.

“I wasn’t angry or mad or anything,” Tatum said. “I just waited to the next day. I saw Marcus at the facility and we sat down and talked. It was a great talk actually. We had some time to sleep. The adrenaline was gone from the game. He apologized for what he said and that was something he shouldn’t have said in the media and that they got his words mixed up. I didn’t take offense.

“I started it off by saying, ‘Bro I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. I still got a long way to go from where I’m trying to get to.’ I think we ended the conversation on, we are in this together, we are all on the same team and we are trying to figure it out. Trying to say things like that in the media doesn’t help anyone’s case because that’s all they talk about for the next week or so when referring to the Celtics. It wasn’t the end of the world. No harm, no foul, we are past it now. “via MassLive

Smart can be a loose cannon at times. The man still has glass in his hand from punching a picture frame a couple years ago, but if you tell me that you’ve never punched an inanimate object, then you’re a liar and we can’t be friends. So yes, he can be…let’s say…hot headed, and the words “Marcus Smart for three” keep me up at night, but this team is simply better when he’s engaged and playing his role. Easier said than done, but it’s true. And Tatum knows that.

With that said, I have been incredibly wary of truly investing in this team because the Celtics really have been like Lucy ripping the football away from Charlie Brown the last couple of years. Now I always take advanced analytics with a grain of salt because you can paint any picture you want with the right numbers, but when their core four are all healthy and playing together this team is GOOD.

This season Tatum has missed time, Brown has missed time, Williams has missed time so naturally Marcus Smart left the Sixers game the other night with a hobbling ankle injury. With the All-Star break though he’ll have had plenty of time to rest up. So hopefully, hopefully the Celtics can soon get their core four together on the court all at once and with the addition of Derrick White finally make the deep playoff run we all know they’re capable of making.

The Celtics are back in action on Thursday night to take on the new look Brooklyn Nets with James Harden getting swapped out for Ben Simmons at the deadline.

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