After a big win against Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday night, the Celtics moved to 13-2 in their past 15 games. They are running on all cylinders and playing extremely well as a team while racking up the Ws, continuing to build on their solid January and incredible February records. Ime Udoka has the green playing well, even when key pieces are missing from the lineup (i.e. Jaylen Brown on Thursday) and they are looking more and more like a team that could make a strong and potentially deep playoff push. It’s been a fun turnaround for the Cs after a rough start to the season and now there are 16 games left in the regular season to see how high they can rise in the standings.
The home cooking has been good to the Celtics this year. They are 22-11 at the TD Garden on the season, while just 16-16 on the road. It’s not a shocking revelation that a team plays better at home than on the road, but it’s worth noting that the Celtics are now at .500 on the road. Through the first 40 games of the season, the Cs were just 7-13 on the road and struggling against both good and bad teams. In their last 12 road games, the Celtics are 9-3 and have been playing much better basketball. They had the benefit of a few games in Detroit and a game in Orlando, but beating a mediocre team on the road is still an important W. The Cs have 2 road trips remaining this season (not including 2 one-off road games against Charlotte and Toronto), including a 4-game stint in mid-March that includes the Golden State Warriors and a tough and potentially season defining 3-game trip to end the regular season against teams in the top 4 of their conference, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Memphis.
Thanks to a big loss for Cleveland at home against Charlotte, the Cs have moved into 5th place in the Eastern Conference and are just 1 game behind the Bucks and 2 games behind the 76ers and Bulls who are in 2nd and 3rd in the league respectively. The top of the Eastern Conference is pretty jam-packed, with the top 6 separated by only 5 games. For reference, in the Western Conference the top 6 teams are separated by 14 games. The green have already finished their season series with the 76ers and split 2-2, but they have important opportunities with head-to-head matchup against the other teams in front of them in the standings. For now, the Celtics just need to keep winning and hope for stumbles from the teams ahead of them in the standings to put themselves in the best position once the playoffs begin.
It seems the Celtics have found their identity over the last stretch of games, with balanced offense and top-tier defense. They have been working hard to create good shot opportunities, especially down the stretch and are getting offensive contributions nightly from different parts of their roster not named Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (when healthy). On Thursday night Al Horford had his best performance of the season offensively to help lift the Cs over the really strong Grizzlies with 21 points and the night before against Atlanta, Grant Williams and Derrick White both dropped 18pts in the victory. Generally, the Celtics are middle of the pack offensively, but have looked much stronger these past few weeks, exceeding their average points per game this year (109.3) in 5 of their last 7 games. The eye-test tells me that they look confident and should continue to roll.
Defensively, the Cs are continuing to sit near the top of the NBA in many categories. The allow the 3rd fewest points per game for their opponent, have held opponents to the 4th lowest 3pt percentage, and have held opponents to the lowest number of assists per game in the league. Their ability to rebound, especially on the defensive end, has been huge. The Cs currently sit 3rd in the NBA in rebounds per game at 46.5 and were able to outrebound the best rebounding team in the NBA on Thursday. It’ll be critically important that the Celtics are strong on the defense and limit 2nd chance possessions if they want to beat the top teams in the NBA and move up in the conference standings.
Things are looking up for the Celtics, but with several tough games left on the calendar, the verdict is still out.