Their impressive come-back from a 17-point deficit against the defending champions, Golden State Warriors, not only gave Boston their 14th straight victory (92-88), but also proved the Celtics are one of the favourites to win the title.
Following Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury in the opening game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Boston Celtics had to deal with a major issue that could lead to their championship chances being in jeopardy.
The multiple time NBA champions lost their first two games, however they have been unstoppable since then.
Finding the essential balance between their defensive stability and offensive productivity, they are the hottest team in the league right now, having extended their winning streak to 14 games (14-2).
On Thursday night, the Celtics came back from a 17-point deficit and beat the defending champions, Golden State Warriors, 92-88, playing very well on both ends of the floor and proving they are equal title contenders.
Boston have also prevailed over some of the favourites to go all the way to the end in both the Eastern and the Western Conference, like the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors, respectively, showing they have the potential to dethrone Stephen Curry and company.
That said, what are the key elements that have helped the Celtics dominate their opponents?
Brad Stevens is considered one of the best coaches in terms of defensive tactics and strategy.
Therefore, Boston would undoubtedly have one of the best defensive lines in the league this season. However, things have been even better than what Stevens was originally expecting.
The Celtics have the best defence in the NBA, allowing only 95.4 points per 100 possessions and conceding 94.1 points per game.
The team is almost 11 points below the current league average (106.6 points per 100 possessions), while they forced Golden State to score 29.5 points fewer than their league average (117.5).
Coach Stevens has created a squad full of versatile players that can guard in more than one positions.
In spite of Hayward’s absence and Kyrie Irving’s mediocre defensive performance, most of the remaining players are fully capable of covering their aforementioned team-mates.
Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier are long-armed and athletic defenders, who can guard their opponents very effectively, either in on-ball situations or off-ball ones.
Concurrently, big men Al Horford, Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris and Daniel Theis can offer different things defensively, which lets Stevens make his defensive tactics more aggressive and not just adapt to his opponents’ strategy.
More specifically, the multiple time NBA Champions have seen their opponents miss many shots, both from range and beyond the arc, averaging 42.8% in field goals and 32.7% in three-pointers, as they concede only 8.5 three-pointers per game.
Early in the season, it seemed the side would rely on Hayward, Horford and Irving to make the difference, especially offensively. But, the former Utah Jazz forward’s serious injury changed the initial plans and other players stepped up.
Brown and rookie Tatum have a central role in the tactics, while the supporting cast (Rozier, Shane Larkin, Baynes, Theis and Semi Ojeleye) is very productive, with Horford and Irving as the undisputed leaders.
What we should take into account as well is that no member of the roster averages more than 33 minutes per game (Brown and Horford play 32.1 mpg), which can be an advantage as the season goes on.
Although they play at a rather low tempo, the Celtics are very productive in transition, too. Thanks to their dominance in rebounds, they have the opportunity to quickly run the floor and score easy fast-break points.
The team is second in the respective category with 47.9 per game, slightly behind the Philadelphia 76ers, who are on top with 48.1 rpg.
At the same time, they allow their opponents to grab almost six boards fewer than them (42.4), which enables Brad Stevens and his players to take control of the game and raise the number of possessions in each match.
Even though there is not a 7 feet tall player in the roster that can be a great rim protector and grab many rebounds (like Pau Gasol or Joel Embiid), Boston execute very well in terms of their box-out and eagerness to play good defence, preventing their opponents from scoring second chance points through the offensive boards.
Boston are not one of the top scoring teams in the league. With just 102 points per game, they are 23rd in the respective category and have struggled many times so far in the season.
With 42.7% in field goals and 34.6% from the three-point range, the squad can’t depend on their offensive effectiveness to earn victories, so it’s their defence that can help them surpass their opponents.
Moreover, it sometimes seems the Celtics have no plan B, in case Irving (20.3 ppg and 5.3 apg) and Horford (15.5 points and nine rebounds per game) are not at their very best, and that can be harmful for them as the season goes on.
However, it’s worth adding that Boston have made impressive come-backs in the last few games, despite playing without their two leaders in some of them, showing their character and willingness to fight until the end.
With many players stepping up, especially offensively, coach Stevens knows the roster’s depth and talent can be a game changer in the upcoming months, as the squad should now focus on enhancing their offensive productivity and making their playing style less predictable.
Overall, the Celtics have got over their mediocre start to the season and now are the best team in the entire league, as they go to Atlanta on Saturday night to face the Hawks for their 15th straight win.
Coach Stevens has done a great job so far and if the side continues that way, then they will be in a position of strength over their opponents in their battle to reach the NBA Finals for the first in almost a decade.