Find one person who genuinely and wholeheartedly believed that the Boston Celtics would rattle off ten wins in a row at the beginning of the season to take the top spot in the Eastern Conference and the entire NBA. I didn’t see it coming, and I’m sure you didn’t either. I’ve never been happier to be wrong.
Last year, everything went wrong for Boston. When the rest of the league hit hard, the Celtics folded. This year, so far, everything has gone right. When the opposition hits hard, the Celtics hit back harder. That’s Celtics basketball, and that’s what just one of the many differences between this year and last. The Celtics are fun again.
Through eleven games, the Celtics hold a few marks that are noteworthy, even though, of course, it’s still early.
Currently, Boston is #1 in the league with an offensive rating of 113.2. A Brad Stevens team is #1 in the league on offense. That’s noteworthy no matter when in the season it happens. This isn’t to say that Stevens has been a bad offensive coach, but Stevens has notoriously placed more importance on getting the defensive fundamentals right.
This year, while still being competent on defense, Boston’s sharing the ball incredibly well, making plays like this much more common, even in crunch time:
The ball’s zipping around, Marcus Smart has the shot profile and percentages of an elite 3-point shooter, Jaylen Brown can dribble exceptionally well now, Jayson Tatum’s game is expanding in a way that points in the direction of stardom, and so much more. The young core of this team is improving dramatically, and it’s actually kind of ridiculous that people figured that this group of twentysomethings plateaued after one bad season.
I mean, seriously, look at this.
Smart’s shooting 41% from 3-point range – a number that’s good for 4th in the league. He’s also second on the team in total 3-pointers made with 31 3-point field goals, behind only Kemba Walker and his 47 3-pointers – second behind only James Harden in the entire league.
Breaking news – young guys can improve!
Expectations cast a dark cloud over a dysfunctional team last year. It led to this imaginary level cap forming that hovered over the team’s core even during their stint with Team USA. Now that they’re free to play and show their improvements, there’s no reason we should keep that cap as we evaluate Boston’s status and place in the league this year.
Every championship team has holes. The Los Angeles Clippers have little interior defense. The Los Angeles Lakers don’t have enough perimeter shooting. The Milwaukee Bucks need consistent production from their non-Giannis guys, and the Philadelphia 76ers can’t buy a 3-pointer. The league is wide-open, and the Celtics may or may not have a seat at the contender table.
Will the Celtics continue to be #1 in the East? I don’t know. Maybe? Instead of placing expectations--no matter how high--we’ll find out eventually by enjoying the nightly journey. That’s what made the 2017-18 Celtics enjoyable, and that’s what’s making this year just as fun.
Oh, and all the winning doesn’t hurt either.