The NBA season has been a topsy turvy one so far. It’s still early enough that nothing feels quite settled yet, which has made for its own brand of entertainment. The Warriors dropped their first two games, Orlando, an early lock for an East bottom dweller, currently stands atop the conference standings, and the Celtics had to go back to the drawing board just one game into the season. Amidst all the chaos, here are 10 things that have us giddy and feeling energized about the Celtics’ Plan B and their 4-2 start.
10. Hayward’s first (and likely only) FG of the season
I can’t wait to see what Hayward will concoct as the Celtics’ newest and brightest video coordinator. But in the meantime, let’s appreciate what he’ll be able to add to this already really good squad whenever he comes back. Just look at the way he cuts across the lane, freezes Crowder and springs for that majestic J.
9. Ojeleye’s low center of gravity
Reggie Miller was so surprised by Ojeleye’s defensive sequence on Antetokounmpo that he said Stevens should “tip his hat” to Semi. Zach Lowe then called his defense “stout”. Semi has a unique special teams’-like role on the team: go in and flat out stop (literally, physically) the other team’s superstar, regardless of his position. That’s already an extraordinary feat for a second round steal like Ojeleye. The good news? He also has a really smooth stroke from deep.
8. The almighty Baynes
Baynes has taken a lot of flack for trying to stand in Antetokounmpo’s way, not once, but TWICE in the past week. Most seem to imply that Antetokounmpo got the best of Baynes in both those violent encounters, but I beg to differ. Baynes is a wall who is willing to use his wall-ness. He stared into the eyes of death, made the rotation, braced himself for impact, went straight up — WAY UP — and met Giannis in mid air. “Not in the Mecca, over my dead body!” I mean, how insane is this guy? Oh, and it shouldn’t have been called a foul.
7. Kyrie’s razzle dazzle hands
Irving’s Celtics career hasn’t gotten off to the smoothest or most picturesque start, but there has been progress, and that’s all we can hope for — especially as Kyrie adjusts for life without Hayward’s boost as a secondary set up man. One unexpected feature of Kyrie’s play has been his lightning quick hans on D. He’s leading the team in deflections, averaging 2.2 steals a game thus far, which has helped the Celtics, and Kyrie, get out in transition and get some easy buckets.
KYRIE’S HANDS NEVER SLEEP.
6. Marcus Smart’s multifaceted vision
Smart might never be a polished player, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. What would his game be without its bated breath, helter skelter quality? But one aspect of his game that is really developed is his passing ability — and it comes in many different shapes. He’s adept at quickly swinging the ball on the perimeter, is a dangerous passer from the post, can launch a full court football pass and sees plays developing on the move. Here’s one that will bring a tear to your eye: Smart immediately spots the mismatch down low, and sails one over the long Hensen right into Horford’s mits for a layup on the break.
5. Rebounding by committee
Everyone fretted over what they thought was going to be a reprise of the Celtics’ anemic rebounding last season, especially after the departure of their second best rebounder, incredibly, Avery Bradley. Guess again. The Celtics are 9th in rebounds, 5th in defensive rebounding percentage, and those results have come off the back of effort and length. I could watch Rozier (6rebs per game) box out big guys and rip rebounds out of the air in traffic all day. Here, he makes the most of it by pushing it up the court with his customary dynamic strides, and getting fouled.
4. LeBron wants no part of Jaylen Brown
Remember when LeBron praised the rook last year? Well, he’s back this year and he’s shockingly better than when LeBron last saw him. Jaylen and Kyrie tag team on the steal and Brown demolishes the rim while LeBron ... politely scoots out of the way.
3. This sick out of bounds play
Nevermind the absolutely bananas finish on this play by Horford, because his balance is exquisite, but HOW IN THE WORLD does Kyrie make that pass with such pinpoint accuracy with the basketball standing between he and Al? Only someone as adept at making ridiculous Js from behind the basket as Irving could go over the backboard and connect with Horford to add a pair to the tally at the end of the 3rd.
2. The return of Horford’s aggressive post game
One of the things that Horford said in his exit interview with the Hawks before he joined the Celtics was that he was happy to have added the 3 to his game, but wanted to rekindle his post game. He then came to the Celtics and proceeded to spend much of his time firing from the perimeter. Al has been encouraged to be more aggressive offensively, and we’ve seen more touches in the post, which can lead to a few different outcomes, all positive for the Celtics. Horford used to be unstoppable driving towards the middle of the court, often finishing with a assortment of soft half hooks and the like. Here are two beauties:
This one isn’t as pretty, but it’s just as effective and comes against a looong defender in KP:
1. TATUM, THE DEFENSIVE HOLOGRAM
There’s so much to gush about when it comes to Tatum, but the thing that’s caught me off guard is just how crafty he’s been on the defensive end. And it hasn’t just been getting his limbs entangled in an attacking players’ dribble. I present to you “Steals, two ways”, by Tatum:
The second is even more impressive because he uses his length and presence of mind to pressure as a help defender and to swiftly recover on his man; when Middleton tries to make Tatum pay for helping on him by attempting to find Brogdon above the arc, Tatum is there to intercept it.