A friend who is a very casual sports fan sent me a text the other day that said “Who are the Celtics this year?”
I looked at that text for a little while and thought about how I should answer it.
Should I talk about how Jayson Tatum has become a legitimate star at the age of 21? How Tatum is one of only four players in NBA history to record at least 3,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 150 made three-pointers before turning 22? How the other three players are Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant? How about the games played for each when they hit that milestone:
· Bryant – 266
· James – 266
· Durant – 239
· Tatum – 209
Maybe just keep it to this year and talk about how Tatum has shrugged off a slow shooting start to the year and how since December 1st he’s averaging 23.5 points per game on 46/39/81 shooting splits?
He probably knows about Jayson Tatum. He’s an All-Star after all.
Maybe I should tell him about Kemba Walker, the Celtics other All-Star. How his big smile is ever-present, even as he savagely assassinates opponents on the court? How Walker is willing to play off the ball and let Tatum and Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward shine? How Walker’s supposedly bad defense hasn’t been a thing since he put on the green and white? Maybe I could tell him how Walker has been the perfect fit for Boston as the anti-Kyrie?
Ohhhh….what about Jaylen Brown? How about the fact that Brown is better in every meaningful way than he’s ever been in year four? Maybe that Danny Ainge did it again and somehow got Brown to sign a contract extension that is less than the max? How that with Brown and Tatum, Boston has their best young duo since….well maybe Bird and McHale? Definitely since Pierce and Walker.
Maybe I should make sure he knows the heart and soul of the Celtics is Marcus Smart? How Smart can be 0-for-the game shooting and somehow still make the biggest play to win it for Boston late in the fourth quarter? Better yet, I can explain how we just sort of expect it now! How very few athletes who aren’t stars have connected with the city the way Smart has? How Brad Stevens gave us the perfect quote to describe Smart when he said “We love and trust him”?
Oh! It could be how Brad Stevens is back! After a year of people questioning what happened and if Stevens could still coach, how the love for him is back again? How having a cohesive locker room that likes each other and wants to play for each other has made Stevens’ job so much easier?
Maybe that’s the story! I can tell him how after last year’s disaster and everyone just wanting an exhausting season to end, that the love for the Celtics is back. How easy it is to see how much the players enjoy being together? How that bond started to build when Brown, Smart, Tatum and Walker were all part of Team USA this past summer? How reintegrating Gordon Hayward and his teammates being angry about that isn’t a story anymore?
What about Hayward? How he’s played the best all-around basketball of his career for long stretches of this season? How he’s the key to unlocking so much of what makes Boston really good? How his versatility, along with Tatum and Brown’s athleticism, allows the Celtics to play small around one true big at a time?
Maybe it’s the big men. How Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter have filled the role not only admirably, but quite well? How after months of worrying about who would play center for the Celtics, Stevens has a versatile group that can cover almost situation asked of them? How rookie Grant Williams is Smart’s Padawan Learner as a small-ball big? And how Robert Williams was showing flashes of being the most-athletic big Boston has ever had before he got hurt, but that he’s coming back soon?
I’m sure he knows about Tacko Fall. Everyone knows about Tacko!
All of this ran through my head as I thought about how to answer “Who are the Celtics this year?”. It took so long for me to answer my friend that I noticed the tell-tale dots that meant he was typing another text. That text read:
“Sorry typo. HOW are the Celtics this year?”
Oh! That’s much easier to answer. They’re happier, more fun to watch, exciting, have been a breath of fresh air after last year turned rancid and, most important, they’re better than last season by leaps and bounds.
In the end I settled for: “They’re really good. Really fun to watch. And they’re a real Finals contender.”
That about says it all.