The red-hot Celtics bring the rest of the NBA up to speed

The Boston Celtics have warned the rest of the NBA.

For much of the past 10 weeks, it’s been reasonable to be skeptical. It was reasonable to wonder if the Celtics were legitimate title contenders. But this team has answered just about every question in the past 72 days and has been beating opponents since January 7 while posting a record 26-7.

People wanted to see Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown big nights in the same game. The star duo have now scored 30 points each in six different games this season, including the past two outings.

People wanted to see the Celtics beat good competition. Boston is now an Eastern Conference best 22-14 against teams over .500. Only the Phoenix Suns (23-9) were better. The Celtics are 21-4 in their last 25 games overall with 13 of those wins against playoff opponents.

People wanted to see Tatum take another step in his ascension. He is slowly making his way into the MVP conversation not only with his elite scores, but also with his playing skills which have improved several times this season. Tatum’s new signature “Kiss of Death” celebration — blowing kisses to the crowd with both hands after sealing baskets — has become the defining image of the second half of Boston’s Gulf.

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The Celtics’ deadlines cluttered the roster, leaving Ime Udoka with a nine-man rotation that he could confidently embrace without fear of a defensive drop-off with a player being sent off. Boston brought in Derrick White, who cemented Udoka’s desire for ball moves, and added a familiar face in Daniel Theis to add depth in the frontcourt that took minutes to complete and pressured starters Robert Williams and Al Horford.

Perhaps the biggest concern among some Celtics fans right now is that the team has skyrocketed the standings so quickly—from January 11 to 7 to a virtual tie for third seed after Boston’s Sunday night win in Denver—that it has brought some potentially unsavory matchups into play.

But the Celtics have been playing at such a high level lately that no match seems untenable. Yes, there are superstar talents on the Nets and Bucks that no team would rather see on the field in a playoff series – especially not in the early rounds – but the Celtics have proven they can get along with anyone.

The Celtics have their highest net score in the league at 13.4 since January 7. A once-sputtering offense ranks fifth in the NBA during that period, racking up 116.4 points per 100 possessions. Boston’s assist rate increased 5.3 percent from the first 39 games to the last 33. The team’s actual shooting rate is up 4 percent from the same splits.

Boston is now knocking on the door of the top 10 in offensive rating. They rank 13th overall with 112 points per 100 possessions (but a one point increase would take them to seventh overall).

If Boston maintained its win rate from the past 2.5 months over a season, it would have a pace of 64 wins. If the Celtics hadn’t stumbled so much at the start of the season, they’d be jockeying with the Heat for first place in the East, but the fact that they’re shuffling to secure the home court to open the playoffs is a remarkable fact. own performance.

What’s even crazier is that, despite all of Boston’s recent success, players still believe there is potential for even better basketball. All this without putting a cap on what this team can achieve this season.

[Winning] feels nice. But I keep saying we should only play one game at a time,” said Brown. “Our goal is to get better and better at the things we need to get better at. It’s about us, not the other team…

“We have to take it game by game, stay healthy, and then the sky is the limit. Beyond this sky, to be honest. So I’m excited.”

Brown tweeted before the Boston wave: “The energy is about to shift.” He downplayed any foresight when he was later pressed on the suggestion. After Sunday’s win in Denver, Brown tweeted, “Winter always turns spring.”

Pressed on his choice of quotes, Brown cautiously noted that Sunday was the vernal equinox. But then he hinted that it might have been a shot at those who doubted this team and a nod to a squad that got through the many bumps in the road.

That’s one of my favorite quotes, one of my favorite metaphors,” Brown said. “When things don’t always go right, sometimes just hope that winter always turns into spring.”

It certainly has for Boston. And the rest of the league should take notice because everything is thriving here.

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