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Celtics Check-In 2020 – Halftime

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As we approach the halfway point of the NBA regular season, the Boston Celtics appear to have positioned themselves well. At press time, they sit at 28-14, good for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. And while they’re nearly 10 games out of first place – the Bucks sport a robust 39-6 record to this point – they’re just a game-and-a-half back of the second-place Miami Heat.

All told, not too shabby.

While their recent performance hasn’t been particularly impressive – they’ve won just four of their last 10 – a hot start gave them a cushion which they’ve more or less maintained over the course of the season’s first half. It’s far from perfect, but they certainly look like a solid playoff contender.

Let’s check in.

We’ll start with Jayson Tatum, who has looked phenomenal thus far in what appears to be a breakout season. His numbers for the season’s first half are undeniably impressive – he’s scoring over 21 points per game while averaging seven rebounds and just shy of three assists. He’s also managing almost 1.5 steals and one block per game. It’s a dynamic showing from a guy who is still just 21 years old; he looks like he has a shot to be a great player for a long time.

And yet – will Jaylen Brown be better? Brown’s averaging 20 points a game himself and doing so even more efficiently than Tatum – his overall shooting percentage is just shy of 50% and he’s at 39.5% from three. His rebounding and assist numbers lag behind Tatum’s just a touch – 6.9 and 2.3, respectively – but the fact that he’s an elite perimeter defender makes up the difference. It’s an elite line from a guy who looks to have made the leap.

Meanwhile, free agent signing Kemba Walker is the guy who actually leads the C’s in scoring thus far, putting up 22.1 points per game. He’s shooting roughly 39% from three on nearly nine attempts per game – solid numbers. He’s also dishing out five assists per game while pulling down four boards. While his diminutive size occasionally leads to some defensive mismatches, Walker’s speed offers a degree of compensation. He’s been a valuable addition.

Alas, it’s starting to look like the Gordon Hayward signing will ultimately be a bust. He hasn’t been bad this season – 16.3 points, six rebounds, 4.1 assists per game – but he hasn’t been the elite performer that the Celtics thought they were getting either. Perhaps the most troubling number is 1.9; that’s the number of free throws he’s averaging per game. That’s an indicator that he’s not getting to the rim, which means that the inside-out game for which he was signed has been largely absent.

Marcus Smart, on the other hand, just keeps chugging along. His numbers might not leap off the page – he’s scoring 12.5 per game to go with 3.3 boards and 4.7 assists – but he’s one of the driving forces behind this team’s success. Sure, you don’t want him shooting threes – his 35.5% actually feels high considering what we’ve seen – but he is a defensive stalwart and someone that Boston can count on in crunch time. That’s value that doesn’t necessarily show on the stat sheet.

There are some other guys worthy of note. Enes Kanter has proven to be a surprisingly valuable pickup; he’s scoring nine points and pulling down a team-leading eight rebounds per game despite only averaging 18.4 minutes per night. He might be the team’s best bench player. Fellow big man Daniel Theis – the erstwhile starter at center – has managed 7.7 points and six boards per game in his 22 minutes. Backup point guard Brad Wannamaker has been a steady hand, while we’ve seen flashes from other bench guys. The rookies have been a mixed bag, though let’s be honest – we’re all waiting for Tacko Fall to become a Boston mainstay.

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 the Raptors 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 Wednesday, 22 January 2020 09:25

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