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How much have the Celtics improved this season?

As the Celtics passed the midway point on the NBA calendar, let’s take a look at the numbers and see how this team stacks up to years past.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics took down the Dallas Mavericks 119-110 for their 34th win of the season on Monday night, closing out the game with authority and staving off a comeback attempt from Dallas. Boston has tallied back-to-back wins to kick off their west coast trip after their 116-107 win over the Rockets on Sunday.

Through their first 42 games, the Celtics have delivered well on their potential as a contender, pacing the East and the league with a 32-10 record. Boston isn’t done growing and learning with their roster, but how much has the team improved in comparison to the past few seasons?

With an ample sample to work with, it’s time to look at some numbers. Last season the Celtics were 30-12 through the first 42, and the year before that, they were .500 with a 21-21 record before their miraculous in-season turnaround under Ime Udoka. Both years, Boston ended up as a top two seed followed by deep playoff runs, and based on some projections, the Celtics very well may finish with over 60 wins on the season; per Cleaning the Glass, Boston is currently on a 63-win pace this season.

In terms of advanced stats, Boston has kept the ball rolling, building off the past two seasons with very similar offensive, defensive, and net ratings. The biggest difference is how potent on offense the Celtics have become while still playing some of the best defense in the NBA, leading to a league-leading 9.8 net rating. Boston has dominated the glass, especially on the defensive end, leading the league in both rebounds per game and defensive rebounds per game, and they’ve ranked top two in blocks per game and block attempts.

This uptick is in no small part to the roster changes Boston made over the summer, and it’s hard to argue with the results so far. Kristaps Porzingis has been a massive addition, Jrue Holiday has done well in filling the void left by Marcus Smart, and Derrick White has continued to find another level to his game on both sides of the court as a key cog in the Celtics starting lineup. With All-Star weekend just under a month away, it’s also worth noting that Boston’s starting five is getting some serious recognition across the board.

After thirteen seasons, the Celtics have a real chance of having more than two All-Stars with Holiday, White, Brown, Tatum, and Porzingis all in the top-10 in votes at their position through January 18th. If Boston has three or more players named to the All-Star Game, it will be for the first time since the Big Three era trio of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

From 2007-2011, the Celtics had at least three players every season earn All-Star honors, with four players making the ASG roster between Allen, Garnett, Pierce and Rondo in 2011. That year, Boston tied the record for most All-Stars from one team, a feat that has happened 9 times in NBA history, most recently being in 2018 with the Golden State Warriors. As of now, the Celtics have the chance to make NBA history if their entire starting five makes the final cut. The NBA will announce the All-Star Game starters this Thursday, January 25th.

Beyond the roster changes and overall performance so far this season, the biggest question is the mentality of this team and breaking out of bad habits, including the team’s late-game offense and execution. After their narrow loss to the reigning champion Denver Nuggets, Boston’s late game offense became subject of conversations again after multiple missed shots. It’s a fair concern to have, especially with Boston’s track record of late game collapses in years past. So, how have the Celtics fared so far in the clutch?

Through the first 42 this season, Boston is 13-8 in clutch game situations, tied for 5th most wins in the league. By comparison, the Celtics were 12-5 in clutch games last year and a dreadful 8-16 in clutch games during the 2021-22 season. When looking at clutch situations within the final minute, Boston had a record of 9-5 in 2022-23 and 9-8 this season, just barely above .500; the Celtics are also 2-3 in overtime. Despite this, the Celtics actually have a better clutch net rating this season than the last two years, and even with concerns over late game offense, Boston’s clutch offensive rating was top five in the league for the first half of the season.

The number of clutch games is slightly concerning, but that may be a byproduct of a tough schedule. Boston was tied with the Orlando Magic for 5th strongest strength of schedule through the first half of the season; as for their remaining games, Boston has the easiest remaining strength of schedule outside of the Magic, per Tankathon. Either way you slice it, the Celtics have kept finding themselves in close games, but it should help that their schedule softens up quite a bit after January.

Overall, the Boston Celtics have been markedly improved this season, and they still have ample time to improve in terms of chemistry and rhythm with the second half of the schedule already underway. Even with all of the success the Celtics have, it feels like this unit has another level of basketball it can reach, and it’ll be fun watching them try to unlock it in time for the postseason.

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