Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big storyline. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
Maybe Boston’s recent offensive eruptions shouldn’t surprise us anymore. Maybe crisp ball movement culminating with made shots shouldn’t shock us. But it’s simply staggering how far these Celtics have come in such a short period of time.
Back in late November, just a short time after Kyrie Irving cussed out Thanksgiving, the Celtics sat 27th in the NBA with an anemic offensive rating of 104.6. Their offensive inconsistencies contributed to Boston’s 10-10 record over those first 20 games and, if not for some very good defense, it could have been a lot worse when you consider the three teams behind Boston in offensive efficiency at that point were a combined 13-46 (.220 winning percentage).
But on Nov. 26, with injuries forcing his hand a bit, Celtics coach Brad Stevens elevated Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris to starting roles in hopes of providing the energy jolt the Celtics so clearly needed. Even Stevens probably couldn’t have anticipated what has happened since.
Over the last 20 games, Boston owns the NBA’s top offensive rating in averaging 117.4 points per 100 possessions. That’s 2 points better than their nearest competition (the James Harden-fueled Rockets) in that span. It’s also 3.7 points better than the Golden State Warriors’ NBA-leading offensive rating of 113.7 for the season.
The Celtics have turned their offense around the past 20 games. A look at the key numbers (with NBA rank in parentheses):
First 20 games Last 20 games
Offensive rating 104.6 (27th) 117.4 (1st)
Points per game 106.3 (24th) 118.7 (1st)
Assists per game 24.3 (11th) 28.4 (1st)
Record 10-10 15-5
NBCSports Boston — All of a sudden, Celtics are offensive juggernaut
When the Celtics offense looked stuck in the mud for the first 20-plus games of the season, I had moments where I wanted to find tape of the first pre-season games of the last two seasons and watch them on repeat. Maybe you remember the games I’m talking about, both against the Hornets.
In 2017, it was the first time we saw Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving take the floor together and the first time we saw Jayson Tatum in the NBA. There were stretches of that first game where I remember getting downright giddy at how the ball moved and at just how many guys could put the ball in the basket — the ball didn’t stick.
This past September, it was the first quarter of the first pre-season game in Chapel Hill and the Celtics just erupted on offense. The first unit looked good, but the second unit elevated things. In the blink of an eye, the Celtics were up 37-20 at the end of 12 minutes. “Holy shit” I remember thinking, this is Warriors East.
Maybe you all are way more optimistic than I am, but as dispiriting performance followed dispiriting performance this fall, and as the offense looked like a “my turn now your turn” series of trips down the floor, I wondered if we’d ever see those two exhibition exhibitions (see what I did there?) in the regular season.
The games against Minnesota, Dallas and Brooklyn all looked close, but it was last night against Indiana where it finally felt like the Celtics offense hit its optimum level…. that level I remember seeing in two pre-season tilts against Charlotte. No one outside of Aron Baynes was missing, and every rotation player did something to remind you of what they look like when everything is going right.
The schedule going forward looks pretty tasty — three beatable teams on the road, another measuring stick game against Toronto next week, and then more winnable games at the Garden. We’ve been waiting for takeoff, it’s probably time we put our seat backs up and our tray tables locked in the upright position.
On page 2, Jaylen Brown is starting to roll
“Oh, it’s difficult for anyone, and he’s handled it really well,” Al Horford said. “What I’ve noticed is that he’s really trying to figure out how he can be efficient and how he can make an impact.
“I think the focus is always on the defensive end, making sure that he’s playing great defensively. And on offense he’s starting to find himself. He’s starting to feel more comfortable. I think we all are. With the way that we’re playing, we all understand where are our shots are going to come from, the type of shots coach wants from us and being aggressive going to the basket. I think as a unit we’re starting to understand how coach wants us to play.”
Brown sort of shrugged it off.
“Just basketball. Just playing basketball — out there with my teammates, finding the right guys, making the right plays. That’s all it is,” he said, adding of the reserves, “We’re ready. We take advantage of every opportunity we can, and I think other teams know when we come out we’re looking to be aggressive, so we’ve got to keep up that mindset. It’s going to take pressure off the first unit and it’s going to help us overall continue to win games.”
As the Celtics have started to take off, so too has JB. Brown’s struggles were representative of the larger struggles of the Celtics during the first few months of the season — how do the pieces fit? Brown was psycho-analyzed in Jackie MacMullan’s piece in November (great article, as always, from the best writer in Boston, but that had to mess with him) and then went through a downright awful stretch of ball, and in Steve Bulpett’s article linked above, guys are still talking about Jaylen and his ability to adapt and thrive in a new role. But he seems to be comfortable with the noise around him and his role on the court.
This will sound crazy, because I’m just a Red’s Army blogger, but a source with some inside knowledge of the Celtics told me that Jaylen’s agent has been in both his ear and the organization’s this season. Brown, already quite cerebral and hyper-aware of what’s going on around him, seems to have blocked out a lot of the noise lately. It’s been encouraging to watch him find his role and settle his game down over the past few weeks.
The rest of the links: