The Celtics led the league in (deep breath) defensive rating, net rating scoring margin, opponent points and opponent field goal percentage, racking up a 34–12 record along the way.
It's not difficult to now, obviously. Boston has been running roughshod on the NBA for a very long time. They beat Brooklyn multiple times in February. They pounded Golden State and Denver by twofold digits in March. Since Jan. 1, the Celtics drove the association in (full breath) cautious rating, net rating scoring edge, adversary focuses and rival field objective rate, piling up a 34-12 record en route. In a four-game breadth of Brooklyn they put one of the NBA's best scorers, Kevin Durant, in a ball restraint.
Give Brooklyn credit: Down 3-0, the Nets played like a group that needed one more outing to Boston. Durant, burnt out on playing facilitator, scored 39 focuses on 31 shots. Kyrie Irving, after a languid seven-point first half, scored seven in the final quarter. Seth Curry got moving. Goran Dragic made shots. It was a one-direct game with 90 seconds toward play in the fourth. Yet, Durant, who played a series-high 47 minutes, missed a free toss that would have kept the shortage at one with 22 seconds left, Al Horford tipped in a Marcus Smart miss and the Nets were going into the offseason.
Indeed. Have been for a while. But the season didn’t begin in January. It began in October, when Boston dropped its first two and was booed in its home opener. They played games in November, when the Celtics were steamrolled by Atlanta, Brooklyn and San Antonio and called a players-only meeting before the team’s eighth game of the season. Boston played 15 games in December. They won six of them. Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck told SI last week that, back then, “it felt like a building year.”
Take Ime Udoka: Around Christmas, Udoka looked overmatched. This was the ex-Gregg Popovich right hand who generally assumed he was Pop, a slave driver without the list of qualifications to back it up. However, Udoka adhered to his standards — and his exchanging protective plan — broke the Celtics of a few awful hostile propensities and transformed Boston into a cutting edge form of the mid '90s Pistons. Udoka will not get a whiff of thought for Coach of the Year yet attempt to observe one who has been more effective.
Or then again Marcus Smart. Shrewd had all the earmarks of being in a dangerous situation when Brad Stevens took over as leader of b-ball tasks the previous spring. Stevens soured some on Smart last season. Could have done without his shot determination. Or on the other hand his incidental adolescence. Entering the last year of his agreement, Smart seemed to be an exchange applicant. All things considered, Stevens secured him with a four-year expansion, Udoka gave him the point monitor position and Smart has flourished. He had 11 helps through 3/4 in Game 4. He got done with one turnover. Irving shot 43% in this series. He has Smart to thank for it.
He still has the occasional head-scratcher—chasing an improbable steal on Durant late in the fourth quarter, leaving Irving open for a late three—but his productive, game-changing plays far outnumber the reckless ones. Udoka likened the Smart experience to Popovich’s with Manu Ginobili, a free-wheeling guard who played a key role in four Spurs championships.
"Pop would simply agree 'That is Manu being Manu,'" Udoka said. "You live with it since you know he will wind up making the right play generally." Tatum, currently one of the NBA's best scorers, worked on as a passer. He passed out a vocation best 4.4 helps this season. Against Brooklyn, he arrived at the midpoint of 7.3. At the point when the Nets weren't stressed over Tatum cutting to the bin or covering threes, they were disappointed by his ability to make the additional pass. With the clock slowing down in the subsequent quarter, Tatum, perusing a twofold group, whipped a pass to Grant Williams in the corner. Williams thumped down a three, stretching out Boston's halftime lead to eight.
“I knew I had to be on top of my game in this series,” Tatum said. “But I wasn't surprised by how I played. I do feel like I'm one of the best players.” Jaylen Brown, who battled injuries and COVID issues early in the season, played like an All-Star in the second half. Robert Williams developed into a high-level two-way center. Grant Williams emerged as a versatile defender and an elite corner-three shooter. Al Horford, reacquired for Kemba Walker last summer, has been a steadying presence on both ends of the floor. The trade deadline deal that shipped out Dennis Schroder not only brought back Daniel Theis but opened up playing time for Payton Pritchard, who shot 47.3% from three after the All-Star break.
Four months prior, Boston seemed to be a lottery group. Today, they are a genuine danger to come out on top for a title. There's a moroseness to these Celtics. "It's us versus everyone," Smart said. "That is the attitude that we have, and that is the mindset that we will keep." They can guard anybody. Tatum could be the best player in any series — including a probable second-round matchup with Milwaukee. What when resembled a broken group, unquestionably, could really be the NBA's ideal.