Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
The Celtics have played four games against the top three seeds in the West (Golden State, Houston, San Antonio), and they’ve compiled a strong 3-1 record against them. They’ve won their lone meetings with the Warriors and Rockets, and they’ve gone 1-1 against the Spurs (albeit without Kawhi Leonard in both meetings).
Taking it a step further, the Celtics are 5-1 in their six games against the Western Conference playoff field, and they’re 13-7 against the entire NBA playoff field.
They did it.
The Boston Celtics emerged from their pre-London schedule not only in one piece, but on top of the league.
Let’s take a glance at the standings.
The Celtics have played so many games, they have a three game lead over Toronto while being tied in the loss column. They’ve played SIX more games than the Raptors. Now they get four days off before facing the Sixers in London and then four days off after that… plenty of time for the league to catch up.
So let’s take stock of this team, shall we?
They’ve won 76.7% of their games so far this season. If they maintain that pace, they’ll win 31 of their remaining games and finish with 64 wins. Even if they slow down to a 65% pace, that’s 25 more wins and a 58 win season.
This is a big deal seeding-wise because it gives the Celtics wiggle-room. They can slow down to a 26-13 second “half” of their schedule and the Raptors would have to maintain their 73% win pace just to catch up at 59 wins. The Celtics can play worse and Toronto would have to play BETTER just to squeak into the top spot. The Cavaliers need to win 80% of their remaining games to get to 60 wins. They’re certainly capable of going 34-9, but are they willing? I don’t think so.
“As long as we make the playoffs, we’ll be fine,” Lue said after the Boston loss.
The whole point of this is to say the Celtics’ impressive first half of the season, even with a slight December slump, has put them in a tremendous position that I didn’t think was possible. They very easily could be as 60-win team going into the playoffs as the East’s top seed. They still have a west coast swing and games at Golden State, at Houston, and in Denver’s altitude. There’s another lull in there somewhere, but even so, they’ve done so much that there’s room to accommodate it.
What’s most impressive is they’re not taxing their stars to do it. Kyrie Irving is tied for 44th in the NBA in minutes per game, and Al Horford is 50th. The Celtics have 11 players averaging at least 11 minutes per game and all but one of them (Marcus Morris, due to injury and rehab), have played in at least 31 games.
Brad Stevens has done a masterful job of limiting the minutes in the face of a tough schedule and through some down stretches where the tendency would have been to get Irving or Horford into the game sooner. Resisting that temptation has (a) preserved those players nicely and (b) given guys like Semi Ojeleye, Daniel Theis, and Shane Larkin chances to prove they are very capable of helping this team win.
(Side note on the minutes stats: The Celtics have a bunch of guys in the top 50 of total minute played, but again, they’ve played more games so the per game stats are more telling).
On an individual basis, Tatum has fallen to fourth in the NBA in 3-point percentage. George Hill is now first at 46.9% while Tatum is down to 46.2%. His true shooting percentage is at 62.6%, good for 30-th in the NBA a tick behind James Harden. He’s 5th among rookies in scoring, 6th field goal percentage, 3rd in free throw percentage and 6th in rebounding.
Kyrie Irving’s statistics are pretty much right where they always have been with a touch more efficiency added. His PER is up from last year’s career-high 23.0 to a current career-high 24.4, good for 14th in the league. Al Horford’s PER is up from last year as well (19.1 from 17.7) and his assist percentage (26.3%) is at a career-high. His scoring has dropped but his 3-point shooting is at 42.2%. Depending how you list him, he’s either 2nd among centers or 5th among power forwards… which is pretty damn good either way because he’s the floor-stretching big every team would love to have.
And then there’s Jaylen Brown, who gets his own special mention because he’s made such a great leap from his rookie season. His minutes have almost doubled, and so has his production. His scoring has gone from 6.6 ppg to 14.4. His rebounds per game have gone from 2.8 to 5.7. Steals are up from 0.4 to 1.1. His defensive rating has gone from 110 down to 102.
Brown, as much as anyone, is a big key to the Celtics’ success. If Brown is playing well, the Celtics generally are too because Brown playing well generally means points off defensive stops.
The Celtics have been very impressive over the first part of the season. It’s hard to imagine a team that lost Gordon Hayward almost immediately being in this position, but here we are. They’ve beaten all the best teams and they still hold the top defense in the NBA. They’re on a pace to win 60+ games and in a position to get even better thanks to more opportunities to practice and more rest, which means the team’s better players can starting getting a couple of extra minutes here and there.
London was always seen as a finish line of sorts. The Celtics have gotten to it better than expected… and with plenty left in the tank for what comes next. Everyone involved can take today and bask a little in a job done well done so far. I know there’s a lot left to do, but with a few days off… why not kick back and enjoy it a little?
Page 2: Former Celtics apparently enjoy torching Boston
When Crowder’s former Celtics teammate Kelly Olynyk made his first TD Garden appearance last month as a member of the Heat, Olynyk reached out to Crowder.
“He texted me before the game and said, ‘I’m in Boston and you might want to watch this,’ ” said Crowder, and Olynyk scored a career-high 32 points in a Miami win. “And I watched it and he went crazy. He called me after and said, ‘Boy, that felt so [expletive] good.’ ”
This little anecdote is buried in a bigger piece on Crowder’s change of role and attitude in Cleveland. I find it interesting that Olynyk found it in him to drop 30 on the Celtics yet he’s unable to find the motivation to average more than 10.5 points for Miami.
It’s a funny look inside a player’s mind. He’s off in Miami playing on a $46 million deal the Celtics just couldn’t afford yet somehow coming back to Boston was such an inspiration he had to show the team up for a career-high. If I was Pat Riley I’d find a way to hypnotize Olynyk before every game so he thought he was in Boston. It’d be especially hilarious to see him running past Quinn Snyder yelling “take that Brad” and watching all the confused looks.
As for Crowder, that’s an interesting piece about being the hunted versus being the hunter. Playing in Cleveland where seeding isn’t an issue and LeBron dictates most things is different that being in Boston. It’s particularly interesting when he says…
“I’ve never been a part of a team that embraced the losing/learning part of the game. I’ve been on teams previously, you lose a game, you get frustrated. You lose two games, you get frustrated. I haven’t sensed that since I’ve been here. It’s kind of fun to be around, to embrace the process. It’s not going to be perfect, but we feel like we have what it takes.”
Dude, YOU were one of the leaders on that “previous” team. That frustration you felt was your own unchecked tense reaction to individual losses. It made for some fun moments and interesting conversations, but let’s be real here. That frustration last year was because Crowder and Isaiah Thomas were sensitive to every loss and every slight and carried it all as big chips on their shoulders.
And by the way, that was fine! We liked it! Let’s not go back and try to pretend that (a) it was not your fault and (b) it was some kind of problem. That’s how that team succeeded.
Every NBA player has an ego. They’re mostly huge egos, but many are also fragile. Crowder’s petty-level is constantly off the charts. It fuels him. It works for him. But sometimes it makes him say things that make you roll your eyes and say “OK Jae… whatever makes you sleep well at night.”
Get well Dr. J. He was at the Sixers game but had to be taken to the hospital for some reason. That’s still not clear but he’s out now and apparently on the way to a full recovery.
Julius Erving isn’t discussed the way he should be, probably because his best days were spent in the ABA. J made street ball at the professional level acceptable, and his play was, more than anyone’s, responsible for the ABA/NBA merger. Basketball wouldn’t be what it is today without him. Here’s hoping he’s back on his feet and at game soon.
The rest of the links:
MassLive: Jayson Tatum joins Kevin Garnett with rare defensive feat, sends Boston Celtics past Brooklyn Nets with clutch offense | Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics survive Brooklyn Nets in grimy thriller, 87-85
Herald: Murphy: Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum’s success adds to guru reputation of Drew Hanlen | Celtics beat Brooklyn Nets in New York, 87-85 as Jayson Tatum comes to their rescue | Celtics notebook: Mystery knee injury nets Al Horford night off