Celtics: Then & Now

Worry. Panic. Uneasiness.

These feelings represented the emotions Celtics fans experienced last year around this exact same time. Last year, in December, the Celtics were three games under .500 (16-19) and were the No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference at 23-24 on Jan. 22. They eventually ended up above a 60%, the 3rd team in league history to be under .500 exactly halfway through the season and finish with a .600+ win percentage. 

The 2021-22 Celtics fought through the playoffs and took down the defending champion in Giannis before losing to the Golden State Warriors dynasty. 

The Celtics Then

Before the new year of the 2021-22 season. The Celtics had no real team identity. They had no leader, no direction, and no objective. On top of that, the present coach at the time was a first year. Ime Udoka had not been able to get the team to buy into his vision. 

After the new year, the 'Resolution Celtics' transformed in front of every fan's eye. Their defense was good, but it became another beast to cap off the second half of the season.

In fact, their defense was historical. Since January 1, 2022, the Boston Celtics had the best defensive rating by a team that season, with a 109.6 rating. Players like Robert Williams III were a significant reason for this 180 degree turnaround. The team finally bought in, and the improvement was legendary. 

The Celtics ended the season with an exciting playoff run, capping it with an appearance in the finals. Their defense during those playoffs (finals not withstanding) were an NBA best in history. According to Shane Young, who wrote the article, "Inside the Numbers of the Boston Celtics". 

He looked at 76 total playoff defenses throughout 19 different NBA seasons, with both their defensive ratings in the halfcourt aspect of the game and the “relative rating,” which, explained by Young, is how much above or below the average defense in the league that particular team was during their run. For defensive rating, the lower the number is, the better the team's defense is measured to be.

Additionally, Young contextualized these ratings by looking for the normal league average around the time as well, to give true meaning to the statistics.

Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly depending on how much of a green teamer you are, the 2021-22 Boston Celtics rank first in halfcourt offense ever in league history with ratings of 86.8 (league average differential of -9.1).

Defense was the reason the Celtics transformed from a lottery team to a championship contender, but the 2022-23 season is a completely different story for the team. 

The Celtics Now 

Worry. Panic. Uneasiness.

Feelings long gone in the minds of any reasonable Celtics fan this season.

Boston ended the 2021-22 season with the best defensive performances in the league. For the 2022-23 season, they have had a historic offensive season and are the first seed. Why?

To give some context, the Celtics over the summer lost their championship contending coach in Ime Udoka. Watchers, fans, analysts, and writers all believed Boston would be setback because of this. A new interim coach in Joe Mazzulla was appointed to lead the team. The roster was both refreshed and changed, with the new addition of 50-40-90 club member Malcolm Brogdon. 

According to Wikipedia,  "The 50–40–90 club is an informal statistic used to rate players as excellent shooters in the National Basketball Association (NBA), NBA G League, and Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA). It requires a player to achieve the criteria of 50% field goal percentage, 40% three-point field goal percentage and 90% free throw percentage over the course of a regular season, while meeting the minimum thresholds to qualify as a league leader in each category."

The Celtics also added veteran and prior Lob City Clippers member Blake Griffin. Clippers turned into a team defined by tons of lob passes followed by some unbelievable dunks following the arrival of Chris Paul in 2012, thus the Lob City nickname. While not in his prime, he is still able to contribute to the team with both his presence and limited on court minutes. On top of that, Danilo Gallinari, a score-first forward, who averaged 15.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.9 assists throughout his career was added. However, he tore his ACL and is unable to play this season. 

Yet, none of these setbacks would prepare the league nor the fans for the embodiment of an offensive masterclass that is the Celtics this season. The NBA’s youngest active coach and has led the Celtics to a league-best 26-10 start (before January 1st). They currently (1/13/23) hold a league historic best offensive rating of 119.1 The team with the second best offensive rating is the 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets with 118.3. 

Marked with an MVP season Jayson Tatum, a scoring machine in Jaylen Brown, elite playmaking from Marcus Smart, defensive anchoring from DPOY candidate Rob Williams, and an amazing supporting cast (who could be an NBA team on their own), as well as an emphasis on the three ball from Mazzulla, this season has elevated the Celtics offense to levels never seen before. Two Boston players are actually in the top 10 3pt shooting percentages, Malcolm Brogdon (44.3%), and Al Horford (43.5%) at 5th and 6th respectively as of 1/13/23. Everyone has bought in, and they are looking like a scary opponent.

Jayson Tatum has averaged 30.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 41 games this season. Jaylen Brown has averaged 27.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 40 games this season. Marcus Smart has averaged 11.2 points, 7.2 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 37 games this season. Robert Williams III has averaged 7.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 11 games this season. As you can tell, the main cast has been firing on all cylinders, and the chemistry is undeniable. As a bonus, Grant Williams has been shooting the three ball at an elite 40% on a  true shooting percentage of 65.9. 

What has truly changed? 

While you can spout off on statistics all day long, the Celtics have improved in something that might have been the reason they did not win the 2022 NBA Championship. Specifically, the intangibles. If you have paid attention to the team this year, they do everything better; leadership, teamwork, work ethic, mental toughness, coachability, and the ability to perform under pressure. The team suffered because of these intangibles in the championship series, but are noticeably more composed, with poise, chasing an objective, and with the confidence only experience and hard work can bring. 

The Celtics are scary, and you should be scared.


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