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Celtics Check-In – Halftime

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Boston Celtics forwards Jayson Tatum (0) and Al Horford (42) try to stop Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, right, on a drive to the basket during the first quarter. Boston Celtics forwards Jayson Tatum (0) and Al Horford (42) try to stop Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, right, on a drive to the basket during the first quarter. (photo courtesy AP)

I’ll freely admit that it’s shameful that it has taken me this long to start writing about the Celtics. As someone so attuned to the comings and goings of other New England teams and writing regular features on the Patriots and Red Sox, it’s weird that the C’s have gotten short shrift.

So call me a bandwagon-jumper if you wish – you wouldn’t be wrong – but I’m definitely paying more attention to Boston basketball than I have in nearly a decade.

Obviously, it’s a lot more fun to write about a good team. And with a 33-10 record as of press time – a record that gives them the second-best winning percentage in all of basketball and a spot at the very top of the Eastern Conference – there’s no disputing that these Celtics are very good.

Yes, the team has cooled down after their blazing hot beginnings, but there’s nothing wrong with a stretch of 15-6 following their 18-4 start. As we go to press, they’re riding a six-game winning streak. Again – a VERY good team.

Let’s check in.

Any conversation about the Celtics has to start with point guard Kyrie Irving, who – weird beliefs about the flatness of the Earth aside – has been an absolute star in the season’s first half. He has led Boston in scoring with 24.1 points per game; he’s making just shy of half his shots and shooting nearly 40 percent from three. But he’s more than a scorer, dishing out five assists, pulling down 3.5 boards and averaging 1.22 steals per game. Plus he’s playing defense as well as at any point in his career. It all adds up to an All-Star caliber performance.

But while Irving is leading the way, his supporting cast is looking awfully good as well.

Al Horford has been playing inspired basketball thus far this season. He’s fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 13.4 points with a shooting percentage of .520. And he’s leading the Celtics in both rebounds (7.9) AND assists (5.3) so far this season. Oh, and he’s playing great D and blocking a shot per game.

Jayson Tatum continues to make GM Danny Ainge look like a genius for trading down in the draft. The small forward has started every game so far this season and is third on the team in scoring, having put up just shy of 14 a game. His shooting has been exceptional across the board, but particularly from three – his .462 percentage from deep is fourth-best in the NBA. He’s got 5.5 rebounds a game too. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown has continued his leap forward this season. He’s put up 14.1 points per game – second on the team – while pulling 5.7 boards and 1.3 assists. All that, plus a strong defensive presence.

Guys like Marcus Morris (11 ppg/5 rpg/1.4 apg), Marcus Smart (9.9/3.7/4.8) and Terry Rozier (9.3/4.4/2) have all been major contributors to Boston’s success as well.

A lot of credit has to go to Brad Stevens, who has established himself as one of the best coaches in the NBA. While Boston’s top five might not quite measure up to the league’s best, he has built a bench that is as effective as any you’re likely to find. He has this team playing like a team, working hard on defense and doing the little things that make the difference between decent performances and great ones.

Is this a 60-win team? Probably not – the makeup of the squad almost ensures that there will be some regression. That said, they haven’t really regressed yet, and even if they do, they’ve set themselves up beautifully. Playing .500 basketball for the rest of the season leaves them with a win total in the mid-50s – more than enough for a high playoff seed. And in truth, this looks like a group that’s going to do considerably better than .500.

It’s a good time to be a Celtics fan. We’re halfway home – let’s see what the rest of the season has in store for us.


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