The Boston Celtics have won eight of their last 11 games and own the best defensive rating in the league during that span. After a head-slapping start to the 2021-22 season, the Celtics are trending in a positive direction just in time for a Thanksgiving Eve showdown with the East-leading Brooklyn Nets.
For this week’s Forsberg Four -- watch each week on Celtics "Post Up" -- we spotlighted four recent developments that Celtics fans can be thankful for that aided Boston’s turnaround.
Jayson Tatum's spike in whistles
One of the familiar images from Boston’s 2-5 start was an exasperated Jayson Tatum, hands in the air protesting the latest non-call, all while slow to get back on defense as play went the other way. Tatum’s frustrations during his season-opening shooting slump were obvious but protesting the lack of whistles only compounded matters.
Not only has Tatum found his shot the past four games but he’s attacking the basket with purpose and forcing referees to more frequently put him at the charity stripe.
Consider this: Through Boston’s first 13 games of the season, Tatum drew shooting fouls on just 6.3 percent of his drives. He averaged 13.5 drive per game but generated only 1.7 free throw attempts per contest.
Playing with a renewed swagger as his shot has started falling, Tatum is averaging less drives but getting to the line far more often. Over the last five games, Tatum has been fouled on a staggering 20.4 percent of his drives leading to four free-throw attempts per game. For context: Jimmy Butler gets to the line on 12 percent of his drives.
On November 13, when the Celtics kicked away a big lead in Cleveland, Tatum didn’t draw a single shooting foul during that loss (one of only two times that’s happened all season). He’s responded with five of his six best foul-drawing games of the season in the aftermath. In that span, he’s averaging a robust 7.2 free throws per game.
The difference? Tatum is making quicker decisions and not allowing teams to load up in front of him before making his dash. He’s seeking contact, finishing through it, and generating easy points when he gets to the line. His nine first-half free throws against the Rockets set the tone for his fourth 30+ point night in as many games.
Dennis Schroder and the basketball autobahn
Germans know a thing or two about high-speed acceleration in open space. Dennis Schroder ranks 10th in the NBA at 15.8 drives per game this season and is shooting 57.1 percent on all attempts off drives.
But hone in on the last 10 games and those numbers spike. Elevating to a starting role in Jaylen Brown’s absence, Schroder shifted to a higher gear and averaged 17.3 drives per game. He also averaged 13 points per game off drives -- tops in the NBA in that span -- all while shooting a sizzling 65.5 percent on drives.
Schroder’s drive-happy ways have been infectious, too. Marcus Smart’s drive numbers have rocketed up and Boston, as a team, is averaging more drives per game, too. For a team that hasn’t been able to consistently knock down open shots, the boost in easy buckets off those drives has helped the offense operate a bit more efficiently.
Marcus Smart's steals and deals
Smart led the NBA in both steals per game (2.3) and total steals (39) entering Tuesday’s action. He’s had multiple steals in 12 games this season and holds the NBA’s longest streak for consecutive games with at least one theft.
Not only has Smart generated turnovers, his steals are leading to transition offense for a team that desperately needs easy buckets. It’s not a coincidence that Tatum gained confidence during a stretch in which it only seemed like every Smart steal led to a Tatum runout the other way.
To hammer that point home: Smart has assisted on 26 of Tatum’s 72 assisted field goals this season. Thirteen of those 26 buckets have come at the rim. No other teammate has the helper on more than 13 of Tatum’s makes.
Everybody puts Grant in a corner
Few expected Grant Williams to emerge as Boston’s most efficient high-volume 3-point shooter this season but that’s exactly what he’s done through the first 18 games.
Williams is shooting a team-best 42.4 percent on 3.3 3-point attempts per game. Even more remarkable, Grant is shooting 55.6 percent on all corner 3s and ranks fifth in the NBA among all qualifying shooters from the corner.
Williams averaged 106 points per 100 shot attempts his first two seasons in the league. This year? He’s up to 138.3 points per 100 shot attempts and ranks in the 91st percentile in that category among all big men.
Masked slightly by his 3-point efficiency, Williams is shooting 88 percent at the rim, too (15 of 17 overall), this season.
The key to his newfound efficiency? Williams seems to be prioritizing wide-open looks. He’s not forcing anything and making teams pay when they leave him open to send extra bodies at Tatum or Brown.