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Limited turnovers a sign Celtics are ready to turn the corner

They’ve coughed it up just eleven times in the last two games.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Sacramento Kings
Jayson Tatum dribbles past Davion Mitchell in the second quarter Tuesday in Sacramento.
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

In their last two games, the Celtics have taken care of the basketball the way they’ll need to if they want to win a championship.

Against the Jazz on Saturday – in a tight loss where offense wasn’t the problem – the Celtics racked up 30 assists, compared to just six turnovers.

In Tuesday’s 132-109 road win over the Kings, they totaled 33 assists and turned it over just five times – including only two in the first three quarters combined.

It was just the third time in franchise history they registered 30-plus assists and five or fewer turnovers. That’s as good a sign as any that this team is ready to turn the corner and return to form.

Here’s a look at how they fared in that regard on their six-game road trip:
win vs. Hawks: 35 assists, 8 turnovers
loss vs. Rockets: 19 assists, 13 turnovers
win vs. Wolves: 20 assists, 9 turnovers
win vs. Blazers: 29 assists, 16 turnovers
loss vs. Jazz: 30 assists, 6 turnovers
win vs. Kings: 33 assists, 5 turnovers

Add those up and you get 166 assists (27.7 per game) and 57 turnovers (9.5 per game) over six games. That’s 2.9 assists for every turnover.

For context, 27.7 assists would be third in the NBA. The Raptors lead the league in fewest turnovers per game (11.9). The Nuggets lead the NBA in assist/turnover ratio (2.0). Obviously, it’s a small sample size, but the trend seems both telling and significant.

On the season, the Celtics are averaging 13.3 assists, which is seventh in the NBA, but coughing it up just six and five times (albeit against mediocre defenses) is a sign that they’re balancing playing with a sense of urgency and playing with poise.

Much of the talk around the Celtics recently (some of it valid, some of it not) is whether they can “flip the switch” in the playoffs. The short answer is that they probably can, but the slightly longer answer is that piecing together a strong 10-game stretch to close the regular season could pay major dividends.

Early in the season, the Celtics felt like a juggernaut and the clear, unequivocal favorites. In recent weeks, they’ve looked more like a middle-of-the-pack team that could get bounced early.

Chances are they won’t get bounced early, but they’ll need to consistently find their mojo in the coming weeks to make the run everyone expects. Tuesday’s win was a significant step in the right direction.

Here are a few instances that the Celtics are a unified, together bunch ready to go from good back to great:

Check out this dish from Marcus Smart. He knows exactly where Derrick White will be. Part of this is just Smart being good at basketball, but another part is chemistry and trust.

This was one of the best plays of the game, when Jaylen Brown delivered a sweet lefty bounce back to White and he swiftly turned and found a cutting Jayson Tatum for two. It came against Sacramento’s reserves, with the game essentially out of reach, but it still was quite aesthetically pleasing.

This was a fun one, too. Several Celtics could have shot here, but they made the extra pass multiple times and ended up getting an excellent look.

D-White dropped dimes all night and finished with 12 assists.

These are the kinds of plays where sometimes Brown appears to have an angle and then fumbles it at the last second. In all three instances, he stayed poised, kept the ball close to him and finished with ease.

Speaking of Brown, he’s turned it over twice or fewer in in six of the Celtics’ last seven games. He’s averaging 4.2 assists to just 2.2 turnovers, in March.

White is averaging 4.8 assists, compared to 1.1 turnovers in March. An assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.4 for the month would put him 10th in the NBA this season. (Side note: Al Horford is third in the NBA with an absurd 5.35 assist/turnover ratio. The guy really does it all).

The Kings are a sub-par defensive team. We all know this. But sometimes it takes practicing good habits in a game like that to continue them against tougher defensive units.

So, for fans looking for reassurance that this team is trending in the right direction, the way the Celtics have passed the ball the last two games is a sign that they’re starting to resemble themselves again.

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