Five keys to Celtics success this season
Five keys to Celtics success this season
BY A. SHERROD BLAKELY
MILWAUKEE – At this point in the season, you don’t find yourself as high in the Eastern Conference standings as the Boston Celtics (31-22) are without several factors working out in your favor.
Here we’ll take a look at five keys to what’s shaping up to be the best season under third-year head coach Brad Stevens and his team which is currently third in the East with the all-star break around the corner.
The games have to still be played, but Boston has caught a bit of a break of late courtesy of the basketball schedule makers gods showing them some love.
Boston has won nine of its last 10 games, with seven of those games against teams with a sub-.500 record. The Celtics have gone 6-1 in those games which certainly has bred an increased level of confidence. That confidence has only been fueled by their success against teams with a winning record with none being bigger than their 104-103 buzzer-beater at Cleveland.
With so much balance up and down this roster, it comes as no surprise that Boston’s reserves have had a significant impact on the team’s success this season. They are currently averaging 38.9 points per game which according to Hoopsstats.com, ranks fifth in the NBA this season. There has been very little talk about Evan Turner as a potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate even though he leads all reserves in assists this season and has been the one player that head coach Brad Stevens depends on most in the decisive fourth quarter which is evident by his assists numbers in the fourth ranking among the game’s best players.
The return of Marcus Smart has been a major boost for Boston, and it’s not solely because of what he brings to the floor defensively. It took him a few games to shake the rust off his shot, but lately he has been a challenging cover for teams because of his ability to attack the rim off the dribble in addition to pulling up for jumpers and 3-pointers. Because of Boston’s excellent spacing offensively, Smart is finding a decent amount of good, in rhythm shots to take and to his credit he has been making them. Throw in strong contributions from Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko and the re-emergence of Tyler Zeller … you have the makings of a strong, versatile second unit.
3. Brad Stevens
We tend to take the role of an NBA head coach for granted, often viewed as babysitters for the athletically gifted who specialize in jumpers and blocked shots. But as we see coach after coach after coach get kicked to the curb – New York’s Derek Fisher being the most recently fired – it should make Celtics fans even more pleased with Brad Stevens who is a legit candidate for the league’s Coach of the Year award. He will be the first to tell you that he has been far from perfect in his two-plus seasons as Boston’s head coach. While some will argue that he’s one of the best coaches in the NBA right now. More than anything, he’s a great fit for the kind of team Danny Ainge envisions will eventually compete for an NBA title. That time isn’t now, but when it does the last thing Ainge will have to worry about is who will lead that group. He’s got his man for that job already.
2. Isaiah Thomas
It’s telling how many elite athletes, both inside the NBA and on the outside, were thrilled about Isaiah Thomas being a first-time All-Star and the most recent recipient of the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award for Feb. 1-7. The 5-foot-9 guard is the epitome of beating the odds. There’s a long list of challenges he has had to overcome to be where he’s at right now. And that in many ways endears him to fans, foes and of course, this Celtics franchise. When it comes to winning at a high level, you need players with a tough, battle-tested mentality who can withstand the ups and downs that come with the process of being great. No one on this Celtics roster embodies that more than Thomas.
1. Established foundation
Boston is a team whose focus more nights than not is on getting the job done defensively. As you scan most of the league’s valued defensive stats, you’ll see the Boston Celtics rank among the game’s best. What separates them from a lot of teams that play defense at a high level, is far too few of them use that defense to generate instant offense. It’s telling that the Celtics rank among the league’s top 10 in points off turnovers and fewest points allowed off turnovers. That means they are not only attacking you in transition, but getting back in time so you can’t do the same to them. Boston has become an endline-to-endline kind of team which gives them a shot at success regardless of whether the defense is having a tough night or shots aren’t falling. For a team so young, with a coach who seems to get better at his job from one day to the next, that is an extremely encouraging. And while the focus and goals right now are to go as deep into the postseason as possible, this season is showing signs that the ultimate measure of success around here – a championship – isn’t as far off as some might believe.