The Boston Celtics have quickly become the talking point of the NBA. After muddling around in mediocrity for the first half of the season, Boston has reeled off nine straight wins right before the All-Star break. They can make it 10 tonight with a win over the Detroit Pistons in their final game before the break.
To say this recent win streak is a surprise would be quite the understatement, but truthfully, it’s probably what Celtics fans have been expecting all season long. It’s clear that a roster consisting of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown should be winning more games than they are losing, and for the first time in the past year and a half, that’s finally the case.
Now the C’s expectations have flipped around 180 degrees. Not much was expected of this team for most of the season, despite their clear talent, because they were losing so many winnable games. But that’s no longer true.
This team has been blowing out their opponents, grinding out wins in games they haven’t really played well in, and most importantly, not throwing away leads in the fourth quarter. The Celtics have finally started to reach their potential, and it’s time to readjust their expectations as we embark on the final stretch of the season.
The Boston Celtics are legit contenders in the Eastern Conference
Off the bat, I’ll admit that I am still a bit skeptical of the Boston Celtics. Their numbers are inflated thanks in large part to playing a severely weakened slate of opponents. They have either been awful teams or seriously shorthanded, and it’s not a huge surprise that the C’s are beating these teams. That they have done so nine times in a row is a surprise, however.
A recent three game stretch against the Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, and Philadelphia 76ers may have done enough to convert me to a believer though. These are three quality teams that Boston played against, and they pulled out impressive wins over each of them to help prove that this win streak may actually be for real rather than a fluke thanks to an easy schedule.
Against the Nuggets, Boston actually played horribly, but they focused on locking up Nikola Jokic in the second half, and ended up rallying back from an 11 point first half deficit to win. Against the Hawks, Tatum exploded in the second half to turn a 10 point deficit at halftime into a 10 point margin of victory. Against the 76ers, the Celtics had more three pointers (25) than the Sixers had total field goals (23).
This three game stretch has proven this team is legit. The Nuggets, despite missing two key players in Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., are still a really solid team because of Jokic’s skills. The Hawks, despite their losing record, made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, and they can still catch fire at a moments notice. The 76ers, led by Joel Embiid, are one of the most dangerous teams in the league. They weren’t last night though.
There are obviously still things that went Boston’s way, as Denver and Philly (ever heard of James Harden?) were both missing key players, and the Hawks have a losing record this season. But these teams are no jokes like the Pistons or Orlando Magic are. Winning against them means something because these teams are legitimate competition.
So what does that mean for the Boston Celtics moving forward? In a normal season, probably not much. But this season isn’t normal. The Eastern Conference is wide open. Despite being in sixth place currently, the Celtics are only 3.5 games out of first place. This conference has been waiting for one team to get hot and take control of it, and right now the team rocketing up the standings is Boston.
Does a nine game win streak make them contenders for the top spot out of nowhere? Absolutely. Nobody has asserted any sort of dominance this season out of the East, and many of the teams have dealt with roster turnover or significant injuries. The Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat are leading the pack right now, but they haven’t exactly dominated at any point this season.
The Celtics are still as talented as any team in the East, and despite their struggles, they have proven they can at least hang around with all of the other contenders, and that was before their win streak. With Tatum and Brown leading the way, and Rob Williams, Marcus Smart, and Derrick White coming together to form a formidable closing five, this team could end up making some noise this season.
Considering how good the Western Conference has looked this season, it’s probably a stretch to expect Boston to contend for a title this season. But any sort of success in the postseason will be a win considering how this season started.
The Boston Celtics are supposed to be finding their way back after Danny Ainge’s miserable ending to his tenure in the front office, and that wasn’t expected to yield any sort of results this season. Yet after a solid Trade Deadline return, the C’s looks like one of the best teams in the league, and that’s a scary proposition for the rest of the NBA.