Keeping An Eye On Contenders: The Boston Celtics Are Quietly Working

The days of storied championships, hard-fought victories, and heroic superstars have long left the Boston Celtics franchise. From Larry Bird and the domination of the 80s to the original big three, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics have had to settle for lowered expectations and dismal seasons until most recently.

If you haven’t been paying attention, Boston appears to have some life again, as they hold a tight grasp of the third spot in the Eastern Conference. The coaching of Brad Stevens has brought some swagger back to the green and white, but most are still not sold on this group viewed as under talented leftovers.

If you would have asked anyone if the Celtics would be 38-26 right now, with wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, they would’ve laughed in your face. Surprisingly, those things are so very real and only a part of the story.

The Celtics are not only a team that may be ignorantly fearless when playing greater competition; they also appear to thrive off of clutch circumstances. Most notably, the Celtics’ 5th year guard Isaiah Thomas, who seems to play better with less than five minutes left in the 4th quarter. He currently leads the league in points scored with 125 total points, fourth in field goals made (33), ninth in field goals attempted (64), and is sixth in average points scored (3.6 points) with five minutes left in the final period.

Another underrated talent for the Celtics is Jae Crowder. He was relatively unheard of with his time with the Dallas Mavericks, but he has definitely come into his own in Boston. His average of 14.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.9 assists are all career-highs. He’s is also interestingly clutch – ranking 10th in three-point field goals made in last five minutes of the fourth quarter (9).

Along with the clutch factors that the Celtics posses, they’ve found a way to make the TD Garden a house of horrors for opponents. With a record of 22-10 at home, the Celtics’ defense has not received the attention it deserves. The defensive rating, which is the number of points allowed per 100 possessions, is 96.8 points for Boston. The only teams better at home are the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors. The Celtics are also ranked 4th in opponent field goal percentage.

The defensive intensity that they have at home should bode well during the playoffs, as long as they can hold onto the three seed. As the Celtics continue to try to prove they can win without a “superstar” who can carry them, they also need to figure out an offensive option when Thomas is not on the floor. The Celtics score 111 points per 100 possessions with the guard on the floor versus just 96.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. Hopefully a return from injured Kelly Olynyk can add some offensive support to the bench scoring deficiencies.

Olynyk might be able to add some much needed support to the interior of Boston on both ends of the floor. As seen recently against the Cavs, the Celtics have trouble when they face larger lineups because of their undersized big men like Jared Sullinger, Amir Johnson, and Crowder. They often get out rebounded when facing teams with a big frontline. This may be the ultimate demise in the playoffs if they face teams like the Toronto Raptors or the Indiana Pacers.

The closer you get to the Celtics, the more it seems as if they really enjoy competing in spite of favorable conditions. They seems to pull together when they pressure is on, fight a little harder when they are counted out, and prove to their doubters and themselves what they’re capable of. With their fearless approach to each game, the playoffs might just be another chance for Boston to bring a little glimmer of the past glories back to the present.