Keith Smith: Chemistry and consistency are two things you worry about at the start of any season. When you start the season with only four returning players, you worry about it even more. What can really keep a coach up at night is concerns about the defensive end. For whatever reason, the Celtics group has erased all those doubts after just eight games.
Six straight wins and six straight games of holding teams under 100 points is an impressive accomplishment. That Boston is pulling it off with so many new faces makes it more so. But what is really standing out is that so few of the guys were well-regarded as defenders.
Kyrie Irving was considered a turnstile on defense. He’s not exactly Marcus Smart, but he’s making guys work. He’s also getting in the passing lanes and making smart gambles for steals.
Lots was said about Jayson Tatum, but you had to listen to people talk about him for a very long time before his defense was mentioned. He’s never looked out of place in the NBA game and often looks like a veteran on defense.
Semi Ojeleye, Daniel Theis and Aron Baynes have added a much needed layer of toughness inside. They seek out and absorb contact on all levels of the defense. That makes it hard for opponents to get clean looks.
And holdovers Smart and Al Horford continue to defend at the same high level they have for their entire careers. But the overall connectedness has been a very pleasant surprised. It has also allowed the Celtics to play through some rough patches on offense, especially with the second unit. A old coach’s saying goes “You’ll have nights where you couldn’t hit water if you fell out of a boat. But you never have an excuse for a bad defensive game. Energy and effort is all takes.” So far the Celtics have had energy and effort in spades.
Mike DePrisco: Kyrie Irving standing among the league leaders in steals looks like something that I think is definitely sustainable. He’s very opportunistic getting into passing lanes, but what amazes me is how quick his hands are. It’s understandable with how good of a ball handler Irving is, but he has been excellent at picking balls free to start the fast break. With the amount of versatile stoppers around him on the defensive end, Irving can continue to feast on lazy dribblers and finishing on the break through traffic.
Greg Cassoli: Playing basketball in Boston certainly looks like a lot of fun. I attended the game in person, and there were smiles on the faces of just about everyone from shoot around to the final buzzer (Jaylen Brown and Daniel Theis had a particularly heartwarming sequence of 1-on-1 play during warmups). Winning obviously helps. It’s easy to be jovial and supportive when your team is up by 25 points, but the Celtics have played with joy in much closer affairs as well.
I hate the Kobe muse cage mentality, the idea that hate and anger are the game’s greatest motivators. Basketball is meant to be fun, and team’s perform their best when they enjoy playing with one another. On this night, Boston demonstrated that. Things won’t always be so convivial, but the roster that Danny Ainge has assembled is meshing quickly, and there is plenty of reason to believe they will handle future adversity in stride.
Bill Sy: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the cream of the crop of Boston’s youth movement. Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier are right there, too. Of course, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving are just 27 and 25 respectively and Al Horford is in his prime at 31. The future is bright for this team.
But let’s not forget the rest of the team.
Along with Tatum, the Celtics have six other rookies under contract and with the loss of Hayward for the year and Marcus Morris’ absence to start the season, several of them have stepped into contributing roles for this 6-2 team. What I love about this year so far and really, the players’ development since Brad Stevens took over four years ago, is how you can see the building blocks being stacked up slowly and deliberately. Brown said that the team is “playing a lot older than their age.”
Semi Ojeleye has been a stalwart on D. Whenever Brown or Horford are on the bench, he’s covered the best player on the opposing team. Over the home stand, he’s hit 4-of-10 from behind the arc. The four makes are nice, but the more important number is the ten 3FGA’s. He’s growing confidence in taking his shot and as the season progresses, he’ll start building on each small brick of success and mortar it into his overall development.
Daniel Theis had a double-double tonight with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Earlier in the season, he was a good back stop in the front court as just a big body and a rebounder. He’s fulfilled that role and now, more. He’s had 10 offensive rebounds over the last three games (four against the Kings) and now, he’s rolling to score and become a favorite target for Smart and Rozier on alley oops in traffic. That opens up his game and his teammates’ games.
You need stars in the playoffs. Check. Defense wins championships. Check. Role players need to step up. Check. Check. Check.
Simon Pollock: Daniel Theis got the first double double of his NBA career tonight with 10 points, 10 rebounds, 1 block in 18 efficient minutes off the bench.
A big piece the winning streak for the C’s right now is coming from the increased capability and defensive effort from the frontcourt. While I was busy over-hyping Theis during the preseason, it’s good to see him have a very respectable game against an NBA team (albeit one of the league’s worst right now). This kind of efficiency from the 25 year-old rookie is promising.
On a different note, Jaylen Brown shot 83% from behind the arc tonight, going five for six with two makes coming back to back in the third quarter that had the Garden on it’s feet.
It’s early, but through eight games the sophomore from California is averaging 41% from three, a full seven points above his rookie season average. This is no indicator that he’ll keep it up, but that kind of a leap certainly has the budding young talent off to a great start.