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Celtics Check-In 2019 – Third Quarter

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It’s maybe a touch early to be marking the three-quarter mark of the season – with a 37-21 record thus far, the Celtics are 58 games into the season. However, with the All-Star break serving as a convenient delineation marker, it’s as good a time as any to check in.

It has been a nice rebound since we marked the season’s midpoint; Boston has won 80 percent of their games since the last time we visited them. Granted, that strong stretch moved them up just one spot in the standings – from fifth to fourth – but they’re just a game out of third.

It’s a team that has slowly been getting better, though they’ve got more than a few obstacles still in their way. Injuries and inconsistency have been the watchwords of the Celtics season; it’s all going to come down to whether they can get healthy and get their heads right in time for the postseason.

Let’s check in.

As always, we start with Kyrie Irving. While the guard has been dealing with some nagging injuries as of late, he remains the primary weapon in the Celtics lineup. He’s leading the team in scoring with 23.6 points per game, a number that puts him just inside the NBA’s top 15. He’s also the team’s assist leader, averaging just under seven per game, while pulling down right around five rebounds per game; throw in two stocks (steals plus blocks) a game and it’s clear why he was an All-Star starter. He’s been solid (albeit inconsistent) on the defensive side of things as well. The only real negative – a big one – has been his attitude.

We’ve been waiting for Jayson Tatum to work through his sophomore slump. Alas, we’re still waiting. Tatum isn’t having a bad year – there’s nothing wrong with averaging 16.5 points, 6.3 boards and two assists per game – but his shooting percentages (particularly from three) have been down. He looks a little … off. His confidence might be down at the moment. That being said, he’s the only Celtic to start every game this season while being one of just two Boston players to average more than 30 minutes a game – 31.2, to be exact.

There are always going to be people out there who look down on the contributions of Al Horford. He’s making a lot of money for what might not look like big money production. There’s nothing sexy about his line, averaging 12.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and four assists, but his value can’t be fully appreciated with those numbers (although that rebounding number leads the Celtics). He is a defensive stalwart and a savvy veteran presence; intangibles matter, and he brings a lot of good to the table.

Marcus Morris continues to be a valuable part of this team. He has slowed down a bit in terms of production, but even with that relative dip, he’s still putting up a 14.1/6.1/1.4 line from the power forward spot. He’s still shooting over 40 percent on threes. He’s third on the team in scoring. And he’s playing good D. More recently, Morris has started being more vocal regarding issues within the team; it remains to be seen how that impacts Boston through season’s end.

Even through Jaylen Brown’s development hasn’t come at the rate we might have anticipated, he’s still having an OK season. He’s got a 12.7/4.3/1.3 line, which is decent production. And his defense has been solid, if still a work in progress. His shooting hasn’t been great – 31.6 percent from three and an unfortunate 68.1 from the line.

We should probably resign ourselves to the fact that we may not see the Gordon Hayward the Celtics signed until next year. Hayward is still working back from last year’s devastating injury; he just isn’t the player he was yet. His scoring is far from what you want at barely over 11 a game. His other numbers are a little closer – 4.6 boards and 3.5 assists per game – but they still aren’t the stats that Boston signed. It remains to be seen what his role will be going forward; a more prominent performance from Hayward could be the X-factor this team needs.

Marcus Smart continues to be one of the league’s best bench players, with solid per-minute numbers and a flat-out tenacious defensive presence. Terry Rozier is a productive and infuriating bench guy, slashing 9.1/4.2/3.2 and missing a LOT of shots in just over 23 minutes of action per game. Meanwhile, nobody else is playing more than 15 minutes a night.

Coach Brad Stevens is dealing with what might be the first real challenge of his NBA coaching career. Always a great Xs-and-Os coach, he’s had to do more juggling of egos and emotions than in the past. It’s one of the few aspects of the job he’s not great at. That said, chemistry issues aside, the team has been winning. He looked to be figuring it out to some degree going into the break.

The Celtics are probably going to struggle to catch the big dogs atop the conference, but their body of work has them poised to head into the playoffs with home court in the first round. If they continue on their current trajectory, this team will finish strong and make some postseason noise.

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