Checking in with the Celtics…part 3

Boston Celtics v Detroit Pistons

Record: 18-13

Notable Wins: @NOP, @WAS, vs. NYK

Notable L’s: home vs. PHX, home vs MIL

Boston Celtics v Chicago Bulls

This Celtics season has not gone to according to plan… but slowly, the pieces are beginning to come together.  I watch every single game but most of the time I have to watch them after the fact.  So for me, watching the Celtics take those early losses was brutal as I already knew it was a losing effort. It was an experiment in futility as I sat down to watch my squad mail it in some games and play like world beaters others.  Some may see the losses to teams like Phoenix and New York at home as a troubling harbinger of things to come.  I choose to see it as the construction of the team by fire.  These last 11 games have seen intense highs and disheartening lows but the team and rotations are coming together.

I need to show some love to three players who have not only galvanized this team with their stellar play but have also been a shining example of what being “a Celtic” really means.  After the loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Brad Stevens made a change to the starting lineup, inserting Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris for Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward.  While both benched players were having rough starts to the season, it was a move that turned out to help everybody as the Celtics reeled off eight straight wins with the Kyrie-Smart-Tatum-Morris-Horford lineup.  I will go into detail shortly about the Marcus Smart effect but Marcus Morris has arguably been our best and most consistent player this season.  He’s putting up 15 points and 6 rebounds a game while shooting 50% from the field. He also exudes a confidence that nobody else on our team seems to carry. He’s always willing to take and make the big shot and his toughness on defense is matched only by Smart.  Another player I want to spotlight is Robert “Time Lord” Williams.  The physical tools that Williams possesses are otherworldly.  He can jump out the gym and his reaction time is excellent.  He gets off the floor for blocks before the player even knows he’s gonna shoot it.  Williams has been a great surprise this season (at the 27th pick no less) and particularly in the last 6 games where he has gotten his opportunity with Al Horford and Aron Baynes out.  The timing and athleticism is there on both sides of the ball for Williams and as he continues to improve and get more playing time he’ll start to get comfortable in the Celtics system and I cannot wait to see what that looks like.

In my last post, Marcus Smart had offered a challenge to his team to start competing and they responded with eight straight wins.  Smart backed up his tough talk on the court as well though.  Once placed in the starting lineup, the Marcus Smart effect was real. The energy seemed higher, defensive intensity was as well.  The flow of the offense seemed smoother with Smart being a shining example of the Celtics offensive system as ball mover.  Smart consistently passes the ball and makes the right play on just about every possession.  Just because he’s not the best shooter doesn’t mean he can’t be our most important player.  A lot of what Smart does at elite levels, doesn’t show up in box scores.  He takes charges, he checks the opponent’s best perimeter player, he gets after 50/50 balls and he doesn’t take shit from anyone.  He acts as Kyrie Irving’s personal bodyguard and he’s the most “Celtic” player on this team.  “Boston runs on Mahcus.”

Phoenix Suns v Boston CelticsYes, the Celtics did reel off eight straight wins.

Yes, they ended up losing a clunker to Detroit in Detroit on a back to back.

No, it is not acceptable to lose to Phoenix and Milwaukee at home….

Last night’s loss was awful and in so many ways, it seemed like this team had reverted to it’s sub .500 level from earlier in the season.  All the good mojo the team had built up over the winning streak seemed to evaporate overnight as Celtic nation put their fingers closer and closer to the panic button.  However, there are a couple arguments to prove that these losses were in fact an aberration.  The first would be the injury to Aron Baynes.  You can laugh all you want, but when Baynes is on the floor the Celtics defense is at it’s best.  We went out to an 11-2 lead against Phoenix and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we couldn’t get a stop after Baynes went down with a broken hand.  The combination of Al Horford’s return, Daniel Theis and Robert Williams emergence should buoy the defense but the loss of Baynes will be felt.  My next argument would be our shots just aren’t falling. 38% from the field, 30% from the 3 against Milwaukee and 44%/38.5% against Phoenix isn’t gonna get it done.  Especially when we are giving up points like the defense is.  My next argument for the losses being an aberration is the late comeback against Milwaukee.  Jaylen Brown looked rejuvenated, Terry Rozier showed sparks and even though we were shorthanded, the Celtics almost pulled off the improbable comeback.  It’s definitely a silver lining but an important one in my opinion.  The Bucks are a team we have to play two more times in the regular season and it’s a good bet we will see them in the postseason.  If we can almost comeback and beat them without Horford, Morris and Baynes, I feel pretty confident the Celtics are still on the right track.

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics

All in all, optimism still reigns for the Celtics.  We’ve made up some ground on the other top teams in the East and I feel confident in the recent rotational changes.  The loss of Baynes will hurt but the return of Horford will be a huge help as he is the anchor for us both offensively and defensively.  I expect a continued improvement in the starting lineup with the Marcus’s and I look for the bench unit to pick up it’s play with the caliber of players it has.  Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward both appear to be rounding into form which is a welcome sign.  These next 10 games are going to be crucial as we get closer to playoffs and seeding begins to matter.

Boston Celtics v Detroit Pistons

Results:

  1. W. 124-107 @ NOP: Player of the Game: Kyrie
  2. W. 128-95 vs. CLE: Player of the Game: Marcus Smart
  3. W. 118-109 @ MIN: Player of the Game: Gordon Hayward
  4. W. 128-100 vs. NYK: Player of the Game: Al Horford
  5. W. 133-77 @ CHI: Player of the Game: Daniel Theis
  6. W. 113-100 vs. NOP: Player of the Game: Marcus Morris
  7. W. 130-125 @ WAS: Player of the Game: Kyrie
  8. W. 129-108 vs. ATL: Player of the Game: Kyrie
  9. L. 104-113 @ DET: Player of the Game: Andre Drummond
  10. L. 103-111 vs. PHX: Player of the Game: Deandre Ayton
  11. L. 120-107 vs. MIL: PLayer of the Game: Giannis

Record in last 10 games: 8-3

Total Record: 18-13

MVP through 30 games: Kyrie Irving.  Kyrie has proven time and time again this season that he is the superstar the Celtics have been waiting for.  During the eight game winning streak he acted as a one man offense, our closer and our main distributor.  During the last three losses though, he’s had to be the leader we needed him to be.  Kyrie plays the mental game as well as anyone and he has carefully challenged his teammates in a way that’s different from what Marcus Smart did last month.  Kyrie offers a much more quiet yet effective leadership strategy and it seems his teammates respond to it because  of the respect they have for him. I expect Kyrie to continue his stellar play while raising the play of those around him.

Boston Celtics v Washington Wizards

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