Celtics

Sunday leftovers from Celtics' impressive start to the season

Sunday leftovers from Celtics' impressive start to the season

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Mavericks, which tips off Monday at 7:00 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call of the game at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

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BOSTON — The Boston Celtics return home from a three-game road trip bringing the best of souvenirs—three wins. 

And with those victories, the Celtics (7-1) now find themselves tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the best record in the NBA. 

In recent days, we’ve talked a lot about the various elements that have converged to deliver some of the best basketball we could have imagined the Celtics would be playing at this point in the season. 

But there are some aspects of their success that haven’t gotten a ton of attention but still have value. 

And with that, we bring you some Sunday leftovers highlighting some of the more below-the-radar factors contributing to the team’s fast start to the season. 

THEIS IS NICE

Part of a logjam at center to start the season, Daniel Theis has distinguished himself as the best option for Boston in the middle.  During Boston’s recent three-game road trip, he averaged 6.0 points per game along with 7.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2.7 blocked shots - all better than his season average in those respective categories. 

More than anything else, Theis’ defense has been what’s kept him on the floor for Boston. His defensive rating of 96.6 ranks fifth among centers who have played more than one game this season and are averaging at least 20 minutes played per game. 

And the four players ahead of him reads like a who’s who of defensive standouts the past decade, a foursome that includes Joel Embiid (91.1), Anthony Davis (94.1), Dwight Howard (95.3) and Rudy Gobert (96.4). 

But that stat that matters more than any other—wins—is what truly sticks out when you talk about Theis being a starter. 

Since becoming a Celtic, Boston has yet to lose a game (11-0) with Theis in the starting lineup. That includes wins in all six games he has started this season for the Celtics. 

FORSBERG: How will Celtics handle Hayward's absence?

TIME LORD ROCKS THE RIM 

The way things have gone this season, Celtics fans have come to expect Robert Williams III to send someone’s shot a few rows back into the stands every night. The 6-foot-10 center came into the league known as a big-time shot blocker at the college level. And while his time in the NBA has not always been the smoothest journey, Williams’ ability to impact the game defensively at the rim is clear. He is averaging 1.7 blocked shots while logging less than 16 minutes on the floor per game. NBa.com/stats shows that per 36 minutes, Williams’ shot-blocking numbers rise to 3.7 per game which per 36 minutes would rank ninth in the NBA. And he’s doing more than just swatting a few shot attempts away when he’s on the floor. Among centers averaging 16 minutes or less per game, only Dallas’ Boban Marjanovic (+9.5) has a better plus-minus among centers, than Williams (+5.0).

BLAKELY: This player could soften the loss of Hayward

C’S ARE ELITE AT BOTH ENDS OF THE FLOOR

Through most of Brad Stevens’ time in Boston, we have seen the Celtics excel at scoring the ball and dominate defensively. But rarely have we seen them play a dominant brand of basketball on both sides of the court. But that’s exactly what we’ve seen thus far, a major factor in Boston’s impressive start to the season. The Celtics have played with the kind of balance that has fueled their success in ways few envisioned. 

Offensively, Boston has an offensive rating (110.4) that ranks fourth in the NBA. And their defense is just as strong, with a defensive rating (101.1) which ranks fifth in the league. The Celtics are the only team in the NBA that’s ranked among the top five in both offensive and defensive ratings. 

While some are hesitant to jump on the Celtics bandwagon just yet because it’s still so early in the season, here’s what you have to consider. No one is saying that the Celtics are going to just roll on and dominate the rest of the season. But consider how well they have played on both sides of the ball both at home and on the road, there’s reason to believe that the Celtics’ success will remain high for the rest of the season. 

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2020 NBA restart: Celtics' three-game scrimmage schedule in Orlando revealed

2020 NBA restart: Celtics' three-game scrimmage schedule in Orlando revealed

By this time three weeks from now, the Boston Celtics will be back on the court playing other NBA teams.

The Celtics' first game of the 2020 NBA season restart isn't until July 31, but they'll start warming up a week earlier with three scrimmage games at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.

Here's Boston's three-game scrimmage schedule in the bubble:

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Friday, July 24
Celtics vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (5 p.m. ET)

Sunday, July 26
Celtics vs. Phoenix Suns (1:30 p.m. ET)

Tuesday, July 28
Celtics vs. Houston Rockets (8 p.m. ET)

The C's face three Western Conference opponents who aren't on their eight-game "seeding round" slate. Their final tune-up against James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Rockets should be entertaining, although it's possible each team's starters play limited minutes as squads shake off the rust.

The NBA plans to release "potential" broadcast details at a later date, so it's unclear whether any of these games will be televised.

The Celtics began official practices July 1 and are set to travel to Orlando between July 7 and 9, where they'll join 21 other teams in the "bubble." Boston is the current No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and could be a legitimate championship contender.

Check out the Celtics' eight-game seeding schedule below:

Gordon Hayward recalls rollercoaster Celtics tenure, three years after signing

Gordon Hayward recalls rollercoaster Celtics tenure, three years after signing

It was three years ago that the fireworks that Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck had previously talked about (and we absolutely loved to talk about over and over and over again), actually came to fruition for the Celtics. 

That's when Boston did what no Celtics team under Danny Ainge’s watch had ever done. 

They went out and signed an All-Star free agent, then-27-year-old Gordon Hayward, who was still in his prime as a player. 

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“I can’t believe it’s been three years already, to be honest,” Hayward said during a teleconference call with reporters on Friday. “A lot has happened for me, for my family.”

It is impossible to look at the Hayward narrative in Boston without delving into the gruesome left leg injury he suffered just five minutes into this first game as a Boston Celtic. 

Once he was cleared to resume playing, there was the usual rust associated with a long layover. But more than the time off, Hayward had hurdles to clear beyond being physically able to return to play. 

For most of his career, Hayward leaned on his basketball instincts when it came to making plays at both ends of the floor. 

The injury changed that. 

Hayward had developed the kind of muscle memory with his game that allowed him to ascend to an All-Star level while in Utah, with play that on many nights looked seemingly effortless. The injury, which sidelined him for the rest of the 2017-2018 season, forced him to work at bridging the divide that now existed between his mind and body as far as what he was capable of doing on the court.

It wasn’t all that surprising that it led to mixed results, with Hayward looking like the best player on the floor some nights and then inexplicably struggling against inferior competition the next. 

And just like fans at times would become frustrated with his inconsistent play, Hayward wasn’t enjoying this rollercoaster of emotions fueled by his up-and-down play either. 

The 6-foot-8 forward has spent his entire basketball career working to strengthen his body to withstand the physical rigors that come with being a slashing, attacking-the-rim wing who can also make teams pay for sagging off him with a mid-range game that can extend beyond the 3-point line. 

But the injury forced Hayward to really work at strengthening his mind, something that he quickly acknowledged as being the biggest takeaway from his time thus far in Boston. 

“For sure I hit a low during my injury,” Hayward said. “And had to work more than ever on that mental side, more than I ever had in my basketball career on that mental side. That’s for sure something that takes work.”

The topic of mental health among professional athletes has gained significant traction in recent years as a discussion which professional players such as Hayward are far more comfortable addressing publicly. 

“For sure the mental side is where I’ve grown,” he said.

And that growth has Hayward in arguably the best position he has been in as a Celtic. 

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While he was initially brought in to be either the team’s go-to guy or next in line, Hayward has effectively settled into more of a jack-of-all-trades role, allowing him to make an impact of significance without necessarily having to carry the team on a night-in, night-out basis. 

He’s averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists this season, his best numbers in those categories since becoming a Celtic. 

Just as impressive has been his efficiency — he's shooting 50.2 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from 3-point range this season.

And while he’ll be the first to tell you that his time in Boston has indeed been a rollercoaster of sorts, he has no regrets about his decision to become a Celtic which reunited him with his college coach at Butler, Brad Stevens.

“It’s been some great moments for sure,” Hayward said of his time in Boston. “Obviously some not-great moments with the injury and everything but some great moments. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”