The Celtics ended the year of 2015 with a solid yet up and down month of December, going 8-6 in the month. Heading into 2016, the Shamrocks are 18-14 and are second in the Atlantic Division. They are in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but are in the mix of 11 teams within 6.5 games of each other. The month of December started off with a three game road trip, including a visit to former Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, who has revitalized his career in Sacramento. The Celtics also played the San Antonio Spurs, who have yet to lose at home this season and finished up the road trip against the New Orleans Pelicans, capping off a 3-2 road trip (first two games were played in November).
Following that road trip, the Celtics welcomed two of the NBA’s elite to the TD Garden. The C’s dropped the Bulls 105-100. Boston used a balanced attack, with eight players, including all five starters, scoring over 10 points and none scoring more than 20. Just two days later, the Celtics would welcome in the then undefeated Golden State Warriors, in what could be the best game of the year in the NBA.
Following a win over the Charlotte Hornets, the Celtics went on a three game losing streak. Boston first fell to the LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers in a first round rematch of last years playoffs. The next night, the C’s lost a hard fought battle against the Detroit Pistons, with Isaiah Thomas leading the way with 38 points and seven assists. The Celtics would then lose to the Atlanta Hawks, with Thomas once again leading the way.
Following the three game losing streak, the Celtics would win four straight, with victories over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte, Detroit and the New York Knicks. The Celtics would lose the final game of the month against the cross country rival Los Angeles Lakers, in Kobe Bryant’s final appearance in Boston.
Through two months, the Celtics have been one the NBA’s best teams on both sides of the ball.
The Celtics are led offensively by the backcourt duo of Isaiah Thomas, who leads the team in points (20.8) and assists (6.8), and Avery Bradley, who is second in scoring (15.1) and third in three point shooting (38%). Bradley is also a menace on defense. The elite on-ball defender ranks second on the team in steals with 1.6 per game. The Celtics lead the Eastern Conference in points per game at 103.1. Boston also ranks in the top five in the league in assists with 24.1 per game. The guards are helped out by Brad Stevens’ shooting big men, including Kelly Olynyk, who is having a breakout season, and Jared Sullinger, who leads the Celtics in rebounds with 9.3 boards per game.
In the first two months, the Celtics have shown the ability to run out in transition, or slow it down and play in the half court. Thomas is playing at an All-Star level this season and is the head of the elite offense. Thomas is just 5’9, but excels in getting to the basket and finishing among the trees in the paint. Isaiah consistently runs the pick-and-roll with the big men, and just shown good smarts in whether to dish it, drive it, or pop it following the pick.
The depth for the Celtics has really paid off, as the team has shown the ability to go at least 11 deep consistently. The depth has really paid its dividends on the defensive end of the ball. Tyler Zeller’s minutes have fallen due to the performances of Sully, Olynyk and David Lee. But young guards R.J. Hunter and James Young have seen there minutes rise recently.
As great as the offense has been, the defense hasn’t been too shabby either. Led by the efforts of Jae Crowder and Bradley, the C’s trot out a top 10 defensive unit. The Celtics lead the Eastern Conference in defensive rating, and allow just 99.1 points per game and hold opponents to just 43% shooting, another top 10 ranking in the league. Although weak on the defensive end inside, Boston has done a great job of defending the three point line, with opponents shooting 32% from deep, tied for third in the NBA.
Although he doesn’t show up much in the stat sheet on the defensive end, Evan Turner has been impressive in the uglier half of the game. He has improved on the defensive end, playing good man to man and has shown the ability to guard multiple positions. His best work, may have been against the best player in the NBA, reigning MVP Stephen Curry.Turner, with help from Avery Bradley, held the “baby faced assassin” to just 9-27 shooting. Curry eventually got his 38 points, but looked uncomfortable the whole game and had eight turnovers, including a couple unforced turnovers.
Heading into the New Year, the Celtics start with a game at home against the Brooklyn Nets (who they are currently playing as a write this). They stay mostly on the east coast, playing just one game west of the Mississippi River (Dallas). The Celtics will see some of the teams they are fighting for playoff position with; including the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls (twice), division opponent Toronto Raptors, and Detroit Pistons. The green and white will end the month against an up and coming Orlando Magic team.
The Celtics are on pace to win 45 games, a five game increase from last season. A full season of Isaiah Thomas and added depth have shown to be huge for the C’s. The Celtics love playing under Brad Stevens and play hard in front of the young head coach every night. Currently looking like a playoff team, regardless of record, the Boston Celtics will be a fun team to watch in 2016.
Picture via NBA.com
Stats via ESPN