In case you haven’t heard: the Boston Celtics are the hottest team in the NBA right now. They’re riding a 16 game win streak despite the fact that they only have 4 returning players from last year and lost their biggest free agent signing from the summer in Gordon Hayward. Through all this adversity, the Boston Celtics have consistently been winning. How have they been doing it?
Defense, Defense, Defense.
The Celtics currently have the best defense in the entire league, and simply put, it is the biggest factor in their play. They lead the league in defensive rating, at 95.8. This means that per 100 possessions the Celtics would only allow about 96 points, compared to the NBA average of 105. This defense allows the Celtics to stay in games even when their shots aren’t dropping. During their 12 game win streak they have shot under 40% on three separate occasions, including shooting 32.9% against the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
In that match-up the Celtics held the highest scoring team in the league, who average 117.9 points per game, to 88. I attest this feat to the Celtics’ long wing players who can switch up and create better defensive match-ups against almost any team.
By switching up putting beasts like Al Horford (maybe one of the most underrated players in the league), or even Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum on offensive threats, Brad Stevens and the C’s can effectively hide and minimize any defensive gaps. Put that along with Marcus Smart’s hustle plays and Aron Baynes’ grit and the Celtics are a defense to be reckoned with.
Chemistry has also made a large difference in this streak. The culture that the ownership, Danny Ainge, and Brad Stevens have made is incredible. Trust in the executives have made it easier for players to know their roles and play their best basketball. Through Stevens’ system, players have been unselfish and look for extra passes, knowing that any one of them could have the hot hand and take over the game on the offensive end.
Playing the Hot Hand
Think: Kyrie Irving’s job in Cleveland was to take over the offensive load for LeBron. In his new role, he has been a fantastic distributor, oftentimes drawing the opposing defenses in and dishing it out to an open Jaylen Brown, Tatum, or Horford.
Almost every player has been able to take over the game at different points of this win streak, making it hard for opposing defenses to focus on shutting down one player.
Jaylen Brown has been a monster offensively the last couple of games. Aron Baynes had a game to remember offensively against the Lakers, scoring 21. Even when Kyrie Irving had to come out with a facial fracture against the Hornets, Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin were able to come in and combine for 31 points. Also don’t forget that Kyrie Irving can literally take over a game whenever he wants. If needed, the Celtics can have four or five scorers in the 13-20 point range sharing the offensive load, as they did several times during this streak. As a player, it makes it easier to focus on team play and that extra pass when there’s less pressure to be the primary scoring option.
For now, the Celtics are showing they are the real deal, but we’ll see what happens later on in the season. As we approach the All-Star break, look for Jaylen Brown to cool down or some fatigue to set in with Jayson Tatum as he adjusts to the longer NBA schedule.
The Celtics are a force that every team has circled on their schedule.