By: Ethan Fuller
A .500 record now seems a lifetime away as the Celtics has now reeled off six straight
convincing victories to place them at 16-10 on the still-young season. Now third in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt, the vibe in Boston seems to have flipped from doom and gloom to a stampede of optimism.
Gordon Hayward looks (kind of ) like Utah Jazz Gordon Hayward! Jaylen Brown looks like last year’s Jaylen Brown! Al Horford remembered how to shoot threes, and Marcus Smart has suddenly learned!
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Celtics’ run includes zero wins against current playoff teams and zero wins against teams with a winning record. Two triumphs were against squads in turmoil (the Cavaliers and Bulls), and one win happened at home versus a Knicks unit that would love nothing more than to grab Zion Williamson in next year’s draft.
Between these dueling viewpoints lies a comfortable if boring middle ground. While Celtics faithful should feel good about the upward trend of the team, much is still left to be desired from individual growth.
Three Key Impressions
1. Marcus Smart can hit threes (?!).
Remove the Knicks victory in which he shot 0-5 from long range, and you’ll find that during this winning streak, Marcus Smart has made multiple three-pointers in four contests and shot 42% from beyond the arc. Did any preseason bold predictions include Smart becoming a viable shooter?
On the year, Marcus Smart is shooting a bad but still career-best 32% from deep. He won’t be the next Klay Thompson, but Smart’s three-ball potential unlocks a dangerous new weapon for Boston. As a sound decision-maker and underrated facilitator, adding a shot creates another weapon for opponents to account for. Couple that with his invigorating defense and attitude, and Smart becomes one of the most vital pieces to any Celtics playoff run.
2. That Bulls game.
On Saturday, Boston set a franchise record for margin of victory, beating the Chicago Bulls by a whopping 56 points. While the Bulls are in the middle of tanking, developing youth, firing a coach and inserting a bad interim (a devastating combo), the win is nonetheless stunning. Al Horford and Aron Baynes did not play, but Daniel Theis held a coming-out party with 22 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. Jaylen Brown scored 23 off the bench. Jayson Tatum added 18 points in 21 minutes. As a whole, the Celtics shot 53% from the field.
This is how an experienced playoff team should perform against a young squad in disarray. Unlike the Knicks game, in which Boston won by 28 but barely led by double digits for most of the affair, this contest started with a 17-0 Celtics run. Chicago never stood a chance. Even if the test was easy, acing it still should imbue confidence in the entire roster.
3. Gordon Hayward still has a ways to go.
Viewers saw a glimpse of “Old G” Hayward when he erupted for 30 points, nine rebounds and eight assists off the bench against Minnesota. Hayward looked quick, accurate, and most importantly, confident in that matchup, knifing through the defense and even skying for alley-oop attempts. But Hayward’s “return” is gilded; the other four games showed rust still remains. He scored single digit points in three contests and did not make major defensive contributions.
Perhaps the most concerning eyesore is Hayward’s shooting. Aside from the Wolves outlier, he’s converted 41% of his attempts during the streak. This is on par with Hayward’s season total, meaning he hasn’t progressed at all despite victories adding up. To be fair, the nature of Hayward’s injury still warrants a long leash. But to say he’s coming back to his old self because of one outburst is highly inaccurate.
The coming week sees the Celtics play a dysfunctional Wizards squad, as well as the middling Pistons and young Hawks. Boston could feasibly emerge from the week with a nine-game winning streak. The Pistons matchup, in Detroit, looks to be the toughest out. However, Andre Drummond has struggled as of late, and Kyrie should get his way with the lack of defense in Detroit’s backcourt.
In an effort to not jinx a running of the table, I’ll predict Boston goes 2-1 this week. Even so, emerging at 18-11 should put the Celtics into the upper tier of the East and prepare them for when the schedule toughens up.