Masked by all the recent noise surrounding the futures of Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving, the Celtics have quietly put together an encouraging stretch of basketball and made their first move in the standings since early December.
Their tires spinning in the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference for much of the past two months, the Celtics (33-19) surged ahead of the Indiana Pacers (32-19) after their Friday night victory in New York. Indiana has lost four in a row and understandably slipped since the season-ending injury to Victor Oladipo.
The Celtics have won eight of their past nine and are 12-4 since the start of 2019. Boston is 23-9 since Nov. 26, the day coach Brad Stevens injected Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris into the starting lineup following an underwhelming 10-10 start.
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Since that lineup switch, the Celtics own the most wins in the NBA (tied with Denver and Milwaukee). Boston also owns the best net rating in that span at plus-10 points per 100 possessions. All of which is to say the Celtics have played some very good basketball the past two-plus months but are only now starting to make a move because of it.
Boston also sits one game back of the 76ers with two head-to-head meetings remaining, both in Philadelphia, including a trip there before the All-Star break. Those matchups could be vital to whether the C's creep up to the No. 3 spot as most projections have the Celtics and Sixers finishing a game apart in the final standings.
What Philadelphia does at the trade deadline (or finds on the buyout scrapheap in the aftermath) might also dictate just how strong the Sixers finish. Boston has dominated the regular-season series and can help its cause by continuing that trend.
While the lingering narrative is that the Celtics have endured an underwhelming 2018-19 campaign, they’re quietly rolling lately. With a little better execution late in the Golden State game, the C's might be generating a bit more buzz. If nothing else, they’re taking care of business a bit better the past few weeks.
This upcoming stretch could change the narrative, particularly with so much attention around the Celtics as part of the trade deadline scuttlebutt. It all culminates Thursday night when LeBron James and the Lakers visit the Garden just hours after the trade deadline passes. James will take part in All-Star roster selection that day as well, which could add a bit more drama to the mix (will he take Davis? Or Kyrie?)
The Celtics still have room to grow, particularly if they can get consistent contributions from their bench when the roster is at full health. But Jaylen Brown has been fantastic, Terry Rozier showed Friday that he can be impactful even when he’s not starting, and Gordon Hayward changes everything when he’s playing with confidence.
It bears repeating that Boston’s starting five — the one featuring the Marcuses — now owns the second-best net rating in the NBA this season among the 21 five-man lineups with at least 250 minutes together this season. Boston’s starters, with a plus-16.3 net rating, are second behind only the Golden State Warriors’ top lineup (Durant/Curry/Thompson/Green/Looney).
The Celtics will celebrate a decade of Super Bowl matinees when the Oklahoma City Thunder visit Sunday at 2 p.m.
While the NBA typically goes light on Super Bowl Sunday, the date has become a staple for the Celtics. It’s a family-friendly day given the early tip time but it’s also a nice diversion for folks trying to fill time before the 6:30 kickoff.
The success of the Patriots has only added to the mystique of the day. The Patriots have been in the Super Bowl in five of the 11 games since the streak started in 2009. It’s fun to watch even the players race out of the arena after the game in order to get to their own Super Bowl parties.
It’s been a solid day for the Celtics with the team posting an 8-2 record in that span. We’ve seen some fun games lately, too, with Al Horford hitting a buzzer-beater last year and Paul Pierce hitting a last-second 3-pointer in his final visit to Boston the year before that.
A closer look at how the Celtics have fared while playing on Super Bowl Sunday the past decade:
Date: Opponent/result (Super Bowl result)
Feb. 3, 2019: vs. Thunder (Patriots vs. Rams)
Feb. 4, 2018: defeat Trail Blazers, 97-96 (Eagles 41, Patriots 33)
Feb. 5, 2017: def. Clippers, 107-102 (Patriots 34, Falcons 28 (OT))
Feb. 7, 2016: def. Kings, 128-119 (Broncos 24, Panthers 10)
Feb. 1, 2015: lose to Heat, 83-75 (Patriots 28, Seahawks 24)
Feb. 2, 2014: def. Magic, 96-89 (Seahawks 43, Broncos 8)
Feb. 3, 2013: def. Clippers, 106-104 (Ravens 34, 49ers 31)
Feb. 5, 2012: def. Grizzlies, 98-80 (Giants 21, Patriots 17)
Feb. 6, 2011: def. Magic, 91-80 (Packers 31, Steelers 25)
Feb. 7, 2010: lose to Magic, 96-89 (Saints 31, Colts 17)
Feb. 1, 2009: def. Timberwolves, 109-101 (Steelers 27, Cardinals 23)
It’s been fun to see this old ESPN article get dug up amid the hysteria about the futures of Davis and Irving.
Anything sound familiar in there? Star player with a preferred sunshine-filled trade destination who doesn’t want to play in Boston? A slightly discouraged Celtics star pondering his future amid some uncertainty about whether the team can add more talent?
It’s a friendly reminder that things change quickly. Back in 2007, the Celtics made a draft-night trade for Ray Allen, Garnett eased his stance, and, a month later, Boston assembled its Big Three for an immediate title run.
It also shows that Danny Ainge is rather fearless in the face of staunch declarations about whether a player wants to be in Boston. So, regardless of what Davis — or his father — says about the organization, it’s outside of Davis' control where New Orleans ultimately ships him. And clearly, Ainge is willing to roll the dice in situations where it can land his team a game-changing talent.
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