The Boston Celtics are thriving under the radar

By: Jalon Dixon, Columnist

Coming off of a year of locker room turmoil and roster turnover, the Boston Celtics have come into this season exceeding expectations so far as they sit atop the Eastern Conference with one of the best records in the league.

Entering the season, expectations for the Celtics were low to say the least. They lost two former all-stars in guard Kyrie Irving and center Al Horford to free agency. Rotational pieces such as guard Terry Rozier and forward Marcus Morris also moved on to new teams over the summer. And to make matters worse, in an offseason like no other where stars across the league were signing to new teams, the Celtics were left with former Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker and Portland Trail Blazers forward Enes Kanter. One could say that these were all signs of bad things to come, but for head coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics, this was a chance to overachieve.

Alongside the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics sit atop the league with only one loss through seven games. With a record of 6 – 1, Stevens has this team playing team basketball and you can see it through the numbers. The Celtics currently have five players averaging double-digit points with three of them averaging 20 or more. Former all-star forward Gordon Hayward is showing that after being two years removed from his ankle injury, he has the capability to return to that all-star level. Hayward is averaging 20.3 points, a team-high 7.9 rebounds, and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 60.8% from the field and 44.4% from the three point line. As a product of Brad Stevens’ system from when they both were at Butler, this healthy version of Hayward was thriving in his role until he suffered a fractured left hand in the team’s win over the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday.

The two players who have really carried this team so far have been guard Kemba Walker and forward Jayson Tatum. After playing three years of college basketball in the New England area for the Connecticut Huskies from 2008 – 2011, Walker has been on fire so far in his return to the city of Boston. Walker currently leads the team in scoring with 24.3 points to go along with 5.1 rebounds and four assists. During free agency, Walker was seen as nothing less than maybe the third piece to a Lakers’ super team. Now he is leading the Celtics to a hot start as the primary option on a championship contender in the East.

As for Tatum, in year three the development of his overall offensive game is beginning to emerge. Tatum is averaging 21.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists, making him the team’s second leading scorer and rebounder. But, what is most glaring about Tatum’s stat line so far this season is his shooting efficiency. Tatum is shooting 41.2% from the floor and a team-high 45.8% from three. With an offensive stat line like that, Tatum is on an all-star pace and a big year from him could make him the key piece to getting over the other contenders in the East, being the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers.

Then there’s the coach. Stevens has made it more apparent than ever that his teams thrive when there is no big super star talent on his roster and little expectations for his team. Once deemed by some as a top coach that could one day take the mantle from San Antonio Spurs Head Coach, Gregg Popovich, Stevens stint with the Celtics so far can be summarized in one word: Overachiever.

Ever since signing to a six-year, $22-million-dollar contract to become head coach of the Boston Celtics back in 2013, Stevens has done more than anyone would have expected out of him coming from Butler. Reaching the playoffs every year since 2014 with two appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals back in 2017 and 2018, Stevens has thrived in the NBA with the introduction of his motion style offense, team philosophy and emphasis on aggressive defense. Now this year with similar expectations to the ones he entered the league with, Stevens has this team winning games and not many are talking about them. Just the way Stevens likes things to be.

Despite the lack of chatter around the Celtics, they have continued to start this season out on the right foot. With three potential all stars in Hayward, Walker and Tatum, the Celtics have a chance to prove all the naysayers wrong and start entering the conversation as one of the league’s top contenders for an NBA championship.




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