Getting Ahead of Myself: Are the Celtics Legitimate Contenders?

Nov 13, 2017

by Chase Gage

 

BOSTON — The Celtics are playing the best basketball in the NBA right now. That alone is not that impressive, as we are just a few weeks into a long season. The most impressive thing about this team is how they’re winning games.

In the first quarter of the first game of the season, the Celtics lost newly-acquired star Gordon Hayward for the season. What a way to start the year, right? They lost that game and then fell again the next night to rising star Giannis Antentokounmpo (I spelled that right on my first try, can you believe that?). Staring at an 0-2 record versus Eastern Conference contenders, down a star, the Celtics were at a crossroads.

Panic never set in. Head Coach Brad Stevens had an answer.

brad stevens
Coach of the Year. Photo via BusinessInsider.com

 

Since their 0-2 start, the Celtics have reeled off league-best 12-consecutive wins. Not only have they done so without Hayward, but also without starting center Al Horford (missed two games due to a concussion) and superstar point guard Kyrie Irving (missed two games with a facial fracture, will play with a fitted mask going forward). How have they done so? Well, let’s find out.

The Celtics have tons of young talent and the best up-and-coming coach in the NBA. During their win streak, they’ve allowed 100+ points only once, as their focus has been on stout defense and efficient offense. They have one of the best benches in the NBA, as they have averaged 33 bench points per game during their streak. They have also had at least four players score in double-digits every game along the way. Add in the fact that five different players have led the team in scoring and only once surpassed the 30-point mark and you’ll start to see that this is a team-oriented squad and it doesn’t really matter who is on the floor. This is Celtics basketball at its finest.

jaylen brown
21-Year-Old Stud. Photo via yardbarker.com

 

This team reminds me of the Popovich-era Spurs. Even if they have stars (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard), they don’t shine the way other stars do. Even if their bench is full of “no-names”, the next man up is always ready to play and the overall effort of the team doesn’t drop off. The focus is on fundamental offense and great defensive effort.

Sound familiar?

Let’s dive into the statistics. Those are my favorite.


12-Game Winning Streak

Since losing 99-102 at Cleveland and 100-108 at home versus the Bucks…

Opponent Score Leading Scorer Bench Points Players in Double-Figures (Scoring)
At Philadelphia 102-92 Irving (21) 30 6
Vs New York 110-89 Brown (23) 29 5
At Milwaukee 96-89 Horford (27) 24 4
At Miami 96-90 Irving (24) 28 4
Vs San Antonio 108-94 Irving (24) 39 4
Vs Sacramento 113-86 Brown/Irving (22) 46 6
At OKC 101-94 Irving (25) 28 4
At Orlando 104-88 Brown (18) 36 6
At Atlanta 110-107 Irving (35) 26 4
Vs Los Angeles 107-96 Baynes (21) 35 4
Vs Charlotte 90-87 Tatum (16) 46 5
Vs Toronto 95-94 Horford (21) 26 5
AVERAGE 103-92   33 5
Injuries:
  • Gordon Hayward
    • Out for Season
  • Al Horford
    • Missed 2 games (Lakers, Hornets)
  • Kyrie Irving
    • Missed 2 games (Hornets, Raptors)

 

Upcoming Schedule:

How long can this streak last?

  • Nov 14, at Brooklyn Nets
  • Nov 16, vs Golden State Warriors
  • Nov 18, at Atlanta Hawks
  • Nov 20, at Dallas Mavericks
  • Nov 22, at Miami Heat
  • Nov 24, vs Orlando Magic
  • Nov 25, at Indiana Pacers
  • Nov 27, vs Detroit Pistons
  • Nov 30, vs Philadelphia 76ers

Counter Argument

I know what some of you out there are saying.

“The Celtics haven’t really played any good teams! So what if they’re beating teams like the Hawks and Kings? They lost to the Cavaliers and that’s their only real competition in the East.”

Jayson Tatum,LeBron James
The King and some scrub for Cleveland. Photo via NBCSports.com

 

You’re absolutely right! Yes, the Celtics have yet to play the Warriors, Rockets, Wizards, etc. But they still own the best record in the NBA, and the competition they’re facing isn’t as bad as you think. Let’s look at the records and standings of the teams they’ve faced and compare that to some of the “contenders” in the league.

The Celtics have beaten…

Orlando Magic 8-5, 3rd in East
San Antonio Spurs 8-5, 4th in West
Toronto Raptors 7-5, 5th in East
New York Knicks 7-5, 6th in East
Philadelphia 76ers 6-6, 7th in East
Milwaukee Bucks 6-6, 8th in East
Oklahoma City 6-7, 10th in West
Miami Heat 6-7, 10th in East
Charlotte Hornets 5-7, 12th in East
Los Angeles Lakers 5-8, 12th in West
Sacramento Kings 3-9, 14th in West
Atlanta Hawks 2-11, 15th in East
  • Average Record of Opponents: 5.75-6.75
  • League Average Record: 6.2-6.5
  • Boston Record: 12-2
  • Other Contenders:
    • Golden State Warriors, 10-3
    • Houston Rockets, 11-3
    • San Antonio Spurs, 8-5 (lost to Celtics)
    • Oklahoma City Thunder, 6-7 (lost to Celtics)
    • Los Angeles Clippers, 5-7
    • Cleveland Cavaliers, 6-7 (beat Celtics)
    • Washington Wizards, 7-5

So, sure. They’ve gotten a few “easy” wins along the way. But when you look at the rest of the league you begin to realize that other contenders have failed to do just that. When you compare the Celtics resume to teams that were supposed to be unbeatable, they stack up pretty well.

Right now, the conversation should be about the Celtics, Rockets and Warriors. The rest of the NBA is falling behind what they’re doing. Blame team chemistry, injuries or just bad luck, but numbers don’t lie.


Real quick before we leave, let’s look at some of the young talents the Celtics have.

Notable Players Under 30

Player Age
Jayson Tatum 19
Jaylen Brown 21
Semi Ojeleye 22
Terry Rozier 23
Marcus Smart 23
Kyrie Irving 25
Gordon Hayward 27

Pretty great, huh?


Coach Stevens is the NBA Coach of the Year until further notice. His team may not win the championship this year, but look out, because this will be a contending team for years and years to come. The Celtics are back, baby.

 

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