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Celtics Check-In – Third Quarter 2020

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We’re three-quarters of the way through the NBA season and the Boston Celtics are putting forth another impressive performance. They look poised to finish strongly in the Eastern Conference, sitting in third place as of press time. While the top spot is likely out of reach – Boston’s 41-18 record leaves them 10 games behind the dominant Milwaukee Bucks – they’re just a touch behind the second-place Miami Heat. Barring disaster, they should still land home court advantage for at least the first round.

They’ve looked good recently, winning seven of 10 and generally looking like a contender. They’re in the top 10 in scoring (eighth) and the top five in scoring defense (fourth). They’ve got their issues – health will be a potential struggle, to be sure – and getting through the Bucks is certainly a tall order. Still, a couple of things go their way and they have a real shot at playing for a berth in the NBA Finals.

Let’s check in.

We’ll start with Jayson Tatum, who by all appearances is making the leap in this, his third NBA season. His scoring prowess is impressive – his 23.5 points per game lead the team and rank in the top 20 in the league. He’s also proven to be a solid rebounder, averaging over seven a game; his passing is decent, though his assist numbers – 2.9 per game – aren’t that impressive. He’s shooting threes at a 40 percent clip and playing lockdown defense, showing a good deal of positional flexibility. And his performance in all of these areas (plus getting to the free throw line) has ticked up significantly in the last couple of months. He’s an elite player right now.

Next up is Jaylen Brown, who brings plenty of performance to the table himself. Basically, his numbers are all just a half-step below the elite stats Tatum is putting up. He’s averaging a hair over 20 points per game while pulling down 6.4 rebounds and dishing out 2.2 assists. All solid numbers, but when you give those numbers to a small forward who can capably defend four positions, you’ve got something special.

Point guard Kemba Walker is next in line, numbers-wise, although he’s currently out with a knee issue that is a little concerning. His scoring average sits at 21.8, while he’s got five assists and four rebounds per game as well. However, his game relies on his speed and mobility; it’s tough to say how long it will take him to get back to 100 percent with this knee issue. He’s performed well all season, but none of that matters if he can’t get back on the court.

Speaking of being back on the court, Gordon Hayward is still finding his way to effectiveness. He’s scoring over 17 a game, shooting over 50 percent overall and just over 38 percent on three-pointers. He’s averaging over 6.5 rebounds and four assists, as well, but perhaps most importantly, he’s playing over 33 minutes a game. Sure, he’s not the most impactful guy on the defensive end, but at least he’s managing to stay on the floor. That’s a win.

The only other Celtic averaging double-digits in scoring is Marcus Smart, whose per-game average is just shy of 13 points. His 4.9 assists per game are second on the team; he’s also pulling down a handful of rebounds. Of course, percentage-wise, his shooting isn’t really up to par. However, he brings an undeniable energy to the game when he’s in it. You don’t want Smart to be your second-best player, but if he’s fifth or sixth, you’ve got yourself a pretty solid group.

As for the rest, there are some solid role players. Big men Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter have combined to average almost 18 points and nearly 15 rebounds in their 41-plus minutes per game. Brad Wanamaker has been OK as the backup point guard. Grant Williams and Semi Ojeleye have done yeoman’s work off the bench.

Coach Brad Stevens remains one of the most respected tacticians in the NBA for a reason; he’s done great work in helping this team to come together. Finding the right combination of talent at any given moment is tough, but he’s shown an aptitude for finding lineups that work. One can only hope that his success will continue going forward.

All in all, this seems like a solid performance for the Celtics thus far. There has been a bit of inconsistency, but the team has maintained a level of success despite that. Nothing we’ve seen so far would indicate that Boston is ready to make a run at the Bucks atop the conference, but it wouldn’t be a surprise for them to make a push for that second spot; one hot streak and a slight stumble on the part of Miami and boom – the C’s are looking at home court right up until the conference finals.

Will that happen? We’ll have to wait and see, but don’t be surprised if this Celtics team puts itself in position for a deep playoff run come spring.

Last modified on Tuesday, 03 March 2020 07:45

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