Celtics have Arrived
It’s all coming together for the Boston Celtics. They are having one of the biggest turnaround seasons in recent memory and are currently the hottest and arguably best team in the NBA. After an abysmal start to the season, the Celtics are 24-4 in their last 28 games and currently tied for the best record in the East. They have been an absolute juggernaut since the start of January. This team is for real and has a real chance to go deep in the playoffs and even get to the NBA Finals.
It took this team awhile to figure it out but once they did, they haven’t looked back. I believe Ime Udoka has a lot to do with it. There is absolutely no chance this team would be playing like they are with Brad Stevens as head coach. Udoka has brought these guys together and is getting the most out of every one of them, especially his stars. The Celtics making a coaching change has paid dividends, Ime Udoka is an excellent coach and the perfect coach for this team.
What is this teams calling card? Defense. Their defense is suffocating, the best defense in the NBA. A true throwback to how the Celtics once played defense, this team is playing championship level defense right now. Defense comes from buy-in and effort, that comes from the coach and leaders of the team. I credit Udoka, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown for the way this team is defending on a nightly basis. It’s incredible to watch night in and night out. Marcus Smart has always been known for his defense but it’s the steps Jalen Brown has taken that is making the difference. Brown has been lockdown, he has become one of the best two-way players in the game.
One of the biggest difference from previous years to the last two months is Jayson Tatum’s mentality. He has found that killer instinct. That thing that separated the likes of MJ and Kobe, that assassin mentality, Tatum has found it. In previous seasons I felt he was too soft, lacked emotion, cared too much about being buddies with his opponents. This year I see anger, I see emotion. He gets fired up, he trash talks, he taunts, he goes at his opponents. I think he and Brown have matured immensely this year. This new Tatum has also elevated his play to elite status. He’s a legit MVP candidate and the leading scorer in the NBA. He’s on that Giannis, Lebron, Curry level, he’s one of the five best players in the game. If you have one of those players, you have a chance to win a championship and the Celtics have one.
Another big development this year has been Marcus Smart. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Marcus Smart over the years. The last couple years, it’s been more hate. But this year, this year he’s been really good. The thing about Marcus Smart is he is finally in the best role for him and that’s as the starting point guard. For his entire career he was a role player, a sixth man, a situational starter and his play suffered because of it. He forced things, tried to do things he wasn’t good at because his opportunities were limited and he was trying to make an impact but now he’s playing to his strengths, he’s not trying to do too much, he’s playing his game. Think about it, in the middle of his second season, they traded for Isaiah Thomas and he became the starting PG, Smart was a backup PG/situational two-guard. Then the Celtics traded for Kyrie and Smart was again not used correctly. He did not mesh with Kyrie at all and his role was even more undefined. After the Kyrie experiment blew up in the Celtics face, they brought in Kemba Walker and once again Smart had to play that weird backup PG/situational two-guard role. Brad Stevens the coach, along with Danny Ainge the GM, for whatever reason, didn’t want to start Marcus Smart at PG and in doing so they blew a lot of money, draft capital, roster flexibility and time trying to find a better option at PG when they could’ve been trying to improve the team in other ways and just started Marcus Smart. Ime Udoka is finally using Smart the right way and Stevens the GM hasn’t tried to ruin it by bringing in another PG to start over him. Smart is now in the best role for him and for this team, the starting point guard and he’s playing the best basketball of his career.
Rob Williams is becoming one of the best defensive big men in the game. He’s been a force for the Celtics in the middle. He’s been healthy and he’s improving every night. He’s starting to become the player the Celtics expected him to be when they drafted him. Offensively, he’s an alley-oop machine. The timing of the Celtics offense going to Williams around the basket is off the charts. He’s basically averaging a double-double this year with 10 ppg and 9.6 rpg. Time Lord is becoming this team’s third star.
Al Horford has been tremendous in his second stint with the Celtics. He’s been a solid veteran presence that this team needed and he’s been playing well. He’s playing the four, which is his strength. Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge shoehorned him into the five a lot in his first stint in Boston and he didn’t always thrive. This time around with Time Lord at the five, it has allowed Al to play at the four and excel.
Brad Stevens made a nice move at the deadline adding Derrick White to this roster. He was someone that Udoka, Tatum and Brown had history with from playing with him on Team USA and he has fit in seamlessly. While his shooting isn’t spectacular, he is a decent scorer, good distributor and plays solid defense. He’s averaging 10.4 points per game off the bench since joining the Celtics.
Payton Pritchard and Grant Williams have been pleasant surprises this season. Brad made the right move trading away Josh Richardson and Dennis Schroder at the deadline to give Pritchard and Grant an opportunity. It has payed off, they’ve been great off the bench over the last month. Pritchard is turning into an absolute snipper from three, hitting over 40%.
The thing about this Celtics team is they are on the same page, offensively and defensively. It’s been nothing short of impressive. They have not only been beating opponents, they been annihilating them. This is the most fun Celtics team to watch since Pierce and Garnett were in green. They are playing at another level right now, one I haven’t seen in a very long time and I don’t see it coming to an end anytime soon. The stars of this team are just now hitting their prime, they have one of the best players and best starting fives in basketball. Everyone is perfect in their roles. The coach was made for this group and will only get better. They may or may not win it all this year but let me tell you, watch out for them next season and beyond. The Celtics are on the verge of something special. The Boston Celtics have arrived.