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Mid-season review: don’t be fooled by the December slump — the Celtics had an impressive first 41 games

The Celtics are on a league-best 58-win pace and rank at or near the top in many important team stats. There’s every reason for optimism.

Chicago Bulls v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The Boston Celtics have played 41 games, exactly half of their regular season, and the results have provided a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of contrast. While the first month-plus was glorious, the second month-plus has been less satisfying. But don’t let that get you down. The overall picture for Celtics fans is still better than for any of the other 29 teams.

Let’s review.

From Opening Night on October 18 through November 30, the Celtics posted an 18-4 record and an .818 winning percentage – a 67-win pace that would’ve equaled the second-best season in franchise history.

The key stats for those first 22 games:

  • Shot 49.8% overall (1st in the league)
  • Shot 40.8% threes (1st)
  • Shot 85.3% free throws (1st)
  • Points per game 121.9 (1st)
  • Point differential +8.6 (1st)
  • Assist % 63.8 (tied 6th)
  • Turnovers 13.5 (tied 6th best)
  • Assists-to-turnovers 2.04 (1st)
  • Offensive rating 121.5 (1st)
  • Defensive rating 112.4 (20th)
  • Net rating +9.1 (1st)
  • A highlight was the team’s nine-game win streak in November.
  • Overall, the offense was electric, the defense below expectations.
Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

On December 1, the C’s lost at home to Miami, starting a downward trend. They were 8-6 in December and are currently 3-2 in January, for an 11-8 record during roughly the past six weeks. That equals a winning percentage of .579 – quite a drop-off from .818, but if they were to only win at a .579 rate over their remaining 41 games, they would still finish the season with 53 wins, two better than last year.

Here are the stats for those most recent 19 games:

  • Shot 45.5% overall (22nd)
  • Shot 32.8% threes (27th)
  • Shot 79.7% free throws (8th)
  • PPG 114.6 (19th)
  • Point differential +2.7 (6th)
  • Assist % 63.1 (4th)
  • Turnovers 13.6 (tied 8th best)
  • Assists-to-turnovers 1.89 (tied 7th best)
  • Offensive rating 112.0 (24th)
  • Defensive rating 109.3 (3rd)
  • Net rating +2.8 (6th)
  • In the week before Christmas, the Celtics suffered their first regular-season three-game losing streak in the 2022 calendar year.
  • The offense dipped as shooting cooled way down, but the defense re-emerged, thanks partly to Rob Williams’ return from injury.
Boston Celtics v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

So where does that leave us? Sitting pretty, actually. They’re working their way out of the December slump. Here are the numbers from the entire first-half of the season (through games of January 9):

  • The Celtics still have the league’s best record at 29-12 (1st at .707).
  • They’ve won three straight and seven of their last 10.
  • 13-7 on the road (1st at .650). Of note: only four teams in the entire NBA have a winning road record.
  • 13-4 vs. the West (1st at .765).
  • 22-0 (1st) when shooting a higher FG% than the opponent.
  • Close games are still a problem: 1-3 in OT, 1-2 in games decided by three points or less.

In addition:

  • Shot 47.8% overall (10th)
  • Shot 37.1% threes (8th)
  • Shot 82.6% free throws (1st)
  • PPG 118.5 (2nd to Kings at 118.8)
  • Point differential +5.9 (1st)
  • Assist % 63.5 (tied 4th)
  • Turnovers 13.6 (tied 6th best)
  • Assists-to-turnovers 1.97 (1st)
  • Offensive rating 117.1 (tied 1st)
  • Defensive rating 110.9 (7th)
  • Net rating +6.2 (1st)

So even with the slump, the Celtics overall remain the cream of the league. Have there been some bad losses? Of course.

  • Lost to the Cavs twice in overtime within one week
  • Lost twice in Chicago by double digits (although the Celtics have beaten the Bulls twice in Boston)
  • Were dominated by the Warriors on the road in a discouraging Finals rematch on national TV
  • Were swept by the Magic in a two-game weekend series in Boston. The Celtics were out-executed down the stretch both times
  • Were destroyed by the Thunder on the road by 150-117, one of the worst losses in franchise history *(however, for a little perspective, the Warriors recently lost consecutive home games to the Pistons and Magic. The same week, the Bucks lost big at home to both the Wizards and the Hornets. Every team has NBA talent. It happens.)
Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Now let’s wrap this up with a review of some of the best wins.

At Miami: Second game of the season, with the Heat looking for payback after losing the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics controlled the game most of the way and fended off a late Heat surge to win 111-104.

At Memphis: Jayson Tatum finished with 39 points and 16 rebounds to win an early-season showdown with fellow MVP candidate Ja Morant. Boston led by 11 at halftime, then allowed the Grizzlies to creep back and lead by one after three. It was a game the C’s likely would have lost a year before, but they held strong down the stretch to pull out a three-point victory.

At Phoenix: The expectation of a close game could not have been more wrong. Boston pulled away early and led by as many as 45 points, cruising to victory.

At Lakers: It was a laugher that Boston led by 20 in the third quarter, until it suddenly wasn’t funny. LA erupted with a huge run to lead by 13 with four minutes left in the fourth quarter. Rather than surrender, the Celtics roared back to send it to overtime, then used a 12-0 run to secure a rollercoaster win.

Bucks on Christmas Day: This chapter in the growing rivalry was keyed by the Celtics racking up 77 second-half points, gifting fans a blowout win at the Garden. The effort also broke the aforementioned three-game skid.

At Dallas: Bouncing back from the embarrassment of giving up 150 points to OKC, the Celtics smothered Luka Doncic and crushed the Mavs 124-95 on national TV. Tatum – not Luka – posted a triple-double.

Conclusion: there’s every reason for Boston fans to be optimistic. The Celtics are on a league-best 58-win pace, rank at or near the top in almost every important team category and, if they stay healthy, are in strong position to make this a season to cherish.

Do you have some thoughts about the first 41 games? Weigh in here with your own mid-season assessment.

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