If you had told me in December that the Boston Celtics would be the hottest team in 2022 and look like serious championship contenders I would have laughed and told you to stop dreaming. The first 3 months of the season were in a word, uninspiring. The team was losing close games, blowing 4th quarter leads, and seemed to be completely lacking leadership and a fire to win. They were 17-19 when 2021 turned to 2022 and it certainly seemed like the Ime Udoka coaching tenure in Boston would not be a long one. To be fair, there were lots of injury and COVID issues, but even with a depleted roster at times the team was vastly under performing. Then January came and a switch flipped.
In 2022, the Celtics are 29-9 and have improved consistently since January. On January 7th, the Celtics were in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with an 18-21 record, only ahead of the Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, and Orlando Magic. They were 1 game behind the New York Knicks and 9 games back of 1st place in the conference, with a +1 scoring differential. Since that day, the Celtics are 28-7, have increased their scoring differential to be the best in the East at +6.6, and are tied with the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks just 1 game behind the Miami Heat (the C’s have played 2 more games than the 76ers and Bucks, so have a slightly lower win percentage). Even more impressively, they are 23-4 since January 23rd and are showing no signs of slowing down with 8 games to go.
The starters are hot, the bench players are hot and the coaching and leadership has been spot on. It’s hard to argue that there is a tougher team in the league to play right now and if they continue to play this well going into the playoffs, the sky is the limit. It’s absolutely cliche and absolutely accurate in this scenario. The consistent high-level of play right now allows them to match up with anyone, because you try to shut one player down, another will beat you. The depth of the roster is really showing as a strength right now. The Cs have size and strength inside, talented scorers and defenders at the guard position and talented wing players who can pose serious mis-match problems for opponents. Oh yeah, and they have one of the best players in basketball right now in Jayson Tatum who can drop 50 on a night when the team needs him to dominate. It feels like Tatum and Jaylen Brown have stepped up as leaders on and off the court and have led by example, which has been huge.
It’s a great time to be a fan of the green. The keys down the stretch? Stay healthy, keep playing at a high-level, and get as close to the top seed in the Eastern Conference as possible. Simple, right?