Look, I know it’s only mid-November. I know there’s a long way to go before the playoffs. I know one injury can change everything. I understand all that.
But I also know that this Celtics team is already special and has a tremendous opportunity to be really special. With that in mind, I’m just going to come out and say it: This 2023-24 team is giving off major 2007-2008 vibes right now.
I can’t be the only one thinking this, right? When I suggested this story idea in Slack, my editor, Bill Sy, responded with an emphatic “YES,” as if he felt heard and wanted the world to know it.
Time for some role comparisons (these aren’t exact, so please have some fun with them and don’t interpret them literally):
Jayson Tatum is Paul Pierce. They’ve been here through it all, put the team and the city on their back and slowly but surely adopted Boston as their own. Of course, Tatum has had a preposterous amount of team success, whereas Pierce had plenty of ups and downs, but the parallel holds true. They’re two killers you want taking the last shot with the season on the line.
Jaylen Brown is Rajon Rondo. Two highly intelligent yet polarizing players, who everyone takes for granted and doesn’t fully appreciate how critical they are to the overall success of the team. They can both change a game in a moment – no, this is not a literal basketball comparison, so no left hand jokes, please. Rondo endured the setbacks with Pierce, and together they’ve come out stronger.
Kristaps Porzingis is Kevin Garnett. Garnett put up stats, he won some games, he raised some eyebrows. All he wanted to do was compete for a championship, and he finally got his moment. Porzingis has adopted that exact same mindset. He may not be as fiery or (let’s be real) maniacal as KG, but his focus and unselfish nature are exactly what the franchise needed. The inside-out games of both make them a truly perfect fit.
Jrue Holiday is Ray Allen. Again, it’s not a basketball comparison, but a role comparison. Holiday and Allen are both subdued, savvy veterans who provide exactly what the team needs. They bring hustle, smarts and grit, and you know they always have your back in intense moments (forget the beef after the title). They’re two guys you trust fully.
Derrick White is Tony Allen. Two defensive-minded, hard-nosed guards who play every game like it’s their last. White brings a more steady dose of offense, but they’re two glue guys you want on your side in a war.
Al Horford is Kendrick Perkins. Both accept their role and can give you 25 minutes with 15 points or 25 minutes with 0 points and without a fuss. They’re not afraid to sprinkle in some occasional trash talk, either. Ignore the obvious age gap and focus on the timely hustle plays.
Payton Pritchard is Sam Cassell. Both can play the 1 or the 2 and give you instant offense off the bench. They might go through some occasional slumps, but they’re always ready to shoot and contribute. Both are gamers and super competitive.
Sam Hauser is Eddie House. Two flat-out snipers who can put the ball in the hoop. If Pierce or Tatum passes them the rock, they have faith they'll deliver.
The others remain to be seen. Oshae Brissett has a chance to become James Posey. Luke Kornet has a chance to become Scot Pollard. Jordan Walsh has a chance to become Glen Davis. Lamar Stevens has a chance to become Leon Powe. It’s up to them.
OK, those are fun and all, but what else connects these two teams? Well, for starters, the newcomers have bought into the overarching goal instantaneously and brought the returners along with them.
It might just be me, but I sense that Tatum and Brown are less caught up in stats this season. They just want to win, and I think Holiday and Porzingis are a major reason why. They could all average more points on a bad team, but none seem to need the rock regularly every night to contribute. They’re in it for the greater good, and that energy is contagious.
I also sense a confidence in this team that I saw in 2008. The Celtics genuinely expect to win every game, but they also don’t take any win for granted. Monday’s game against the Knicks was a great example. It was close pretty much the entire way, but you always felt like the Celtics had it. Even when they were down, it felt like a run was coming. The killer instinct is starting to form.
This team, like that team, is naturally skilled offensively but has a chance to be extremely special defensively with its length and versatility. The Holiday-White backcourt is absurd, and Brown-Tatum-Porzingis can all defend at a high level.
Tatum is picking his spots like an MVP, Brown can turn on the jets at any moment, Holiday is a natural winner, Porzingis is a menace and White can still contribute even when his shot’s cold.
It’s a five you trust, a five you like and a five you feel genuinely likes one another. Porzingis legitimately hasn’t stopped grinning since he got to Boston. Now we find out he and Brown carpool together?! Come on. They’re becoming close friends, and it’s easy to tell it’s authentic.
Oh, and Brown and Tatum seem to be hugging and high-fiving a lot more, huh? Brown got his bag, Tatum’s getting his and they just want a ring.
This team, like the 2008 squad, knows what the mission is but isn’t getting too caught up in the hype or the end goal. Sure, it’s always in the back of their minds, but they seem to collectively understand that nothing is a guarantee.
So yes, it’s only mid-November, but yes, this team has a whole lot of that team’s energy brewing. Don’t be surprised to see the 16-year drought end. We’ll see if this team milks it for 16 years.