For all the superstar chasing and big splash signings that NBA teams are apt to do, the Boston Celtics have gone about things differently.
Sure, they’ve made their attempts to chase stars in recent years (Exhibits: Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, and Gordon Hayward). But, in turning to patience and building their homegrown talents, the Celtics have grown into what could be a perennial contender.
This roster continuity has been on full display during the creation of their 3-0 series lead over the Brooklyn Nets in the first-round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Boston Celtics: A solid core
A budding MVP. A duo ascending before our eyes. The Defensive Player of the Year (and possibly another one waiting in the wings). All four players were drafted by the Celtics and comprise a core that propelled the Celtics to the second-seed in the Eastern Conference for the 2021-22 season.
Six of the nine Boston players who saw playing time in the Game 3 victory over the Nets have spent their entire career with the Celtics. A seventh in Daniel Theis has played most of his NBA career with the franchise.
Toss in Al Horford and his four seasons with the club and you get a perfect recipe for teammates that have built chemistry, camaraderie, and a winning atmosphere.
Experience with players playing in the same system and with many of the same teammates goes a long way, especially when a team is winning. Not only is there stellar talent at the top of the lineup, contributions from others down the roster have been steady as of late.
Players like Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard have shown flashes of their talent in the last few years. Williams became a consistent contributor throughout the season and Pritchard has been dialed in the last month or so. Both have taken it up a notch this series.
Williams had a 17-point, 6-rebound effort in Game 2 while Pritchard has given valuable stretches in the last two games. It was a fourth-quarter flash in Game 2 and a second-quarter splash in Game 3, totaling 20 points in 28 minutes of action.
Horford was a vision of his younger self in the first two games, with a total of 36 points and 21 rebounds. Even Theis, with his deficiencies on defense, is a valuable asset when he’s part of the offensive flow. Theis has chipped in 24 points on 11-15 shooting the last two games.
As important as these key players are, it is a trio of first-round draft picks the Celtics have stuck with over the years that are leading this team.
Boston Celtics: A terrific trio
Building a foundation through the draft should always be a goal of teams. Having the patience to watch these players grow can be a difficult thing to do, but the Celtics had exactly that.
The budding MVP is Jayson Tatum (3rd-pick, 2017) and he’s had a season where he played like one. That has carried over to the playoffs, where he has a game-winner to his credit while averaging nearly 30 points per game this series. His defense (six steals in Game 3) and passing (24 assists this series) have rounded out, allowing Tatum to take his game to the next level.
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The other half of the ascending duo is Jaylen Brown (3rd-pick, 2016). Brown, too, had one of his best seasons as a pro. The guard has found a balance between shooting the three and taking the ball to the rim. His consistency (nearly 23 PPG this series) throughout the season is a huge reason the Celtics are in the position they are in. Brown has also improved his defense and has nine steals in this series.
Defense has always been the specialty of Marcus Smart (6th-pick, 2014), and that success paid off with being honored as the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year this season. Smart’s real growth, however, has been on offense.
Handed the point guard duties full-time in the middle of this season, Smart has shown to be a more measured and controlled player, especially in shot selection. The Celtics have reached the playoffs in all eight seasons Smart has been on the team. And since Tatum arrived, the team has reached the Eastern Conference Finals twice.
Boston is on the path towards making it number three here in 2022. Plenty of basketball still needs to be played and a one game at a time mentality is the best mindset to have moving forward.
As teams try to build their super teams through free agency, it is refreshing to see a franchise have the patience to rely on a core group of a homegrown talent (which a quick look around the successful teams in this year’s playoffs, is a quality trend). And if the Celtics do indeed win the title this season, a lot of their success can be traced back to sticking with their drafted talent, through thick and thin.