Boston Celtics Hot Start
The Boston Celtics are 11-2 and off to their best second best start since the 2008-2009 season (2017-2018). In fact, the Eastern Conference leaders are just one game back in the win column from the Los Angeles Lakers, who own the best record in the NBA. The Celtics only two losses have come on opening night to the hyper-talented Philadelphia 76ers, 107-93, and Sunday night to the Sacramento Kings, 100-99, on the second night of a five-game West Coast road trip. The Celtics immediately bounced back from that second loss against the Phoenix Suns the next night, winning 99-85. Boston heads to the Staple Center to face the Los Angeles Clippers tonight; the Celtics might even face Kawhi Leonard.
The Boston Celtics fast start isn’t fluky and it isn’t simply a function of playing Eastern Conference opponents. Boston’s record includes wins over defending Champion Toronto Raptors, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Dallas Mavericks, who currently sit in 5th place in the Western Conference. The Celtics are back to playing suffocating defense under Brad Stevens, and the offense is back to playing up to the talent level on the roster, despite losing Gordon Hayward to a broken hand 10 days ago. Hayward was having a career year and was on pace for career highs in rebounds, assists and all shooting splits, while scoring nearly 19 ppg. The Boston Celtics rank 11th in points allowed (104.2 ppg) and 7th in points scored (112.6 ppg). The Celtics also rank 4th and 8th and offensive and defensive rating, respectively, and are 2nd in the NBA in turnovers (TO) with only 12.4 per game.
The Earth Is Round
It hasn’t been lost on anyone who follows the NBA the Boston Celtics surprising quick start coincides with reports Kyrie Irving is already unhappy in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Nets were a playoff team under D’Angelo Russell last year; this year their record sits at 5-8. Whether the reports of Irving’s unhappiness are true or not, the fact people in Brooklyn are already answering questions related to Irving’s mental state is a reminder the Celtics evaded disaster in not resigning Irving to a max deal. Those who pointed to talent over turmoil as an argument for keeping Irving, I counter with Kemba Walker. At the time Walker signed a max deal many scoffed at Walker's ability to replace Irving, but what’s to scoff at?
Small sample size notwithstanding, both Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving have had or did have success playing for the Boston Celtics. Both player's statistics playing for the Celtics were slightly better than their career averages, but the question was whether Walker could replace Irving. Through 13 games in 2019, Walker is averaging 23.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 TO per game. That's on shooting splits of .417/.397/.928, which would be career highs in everything but assists (5.5 career apg). Irving, in two tumultuous season with the Celtics, averaged 24.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.5 TO per game on shooting splits of .489/.404/.881. It doesn’t take someone from Pro Basketball Reference to figure out there’s not much difference between those numbers.
The 2017-2018 Boston Celtics, Irving’s first season with the team, started 18-2; the following season, Irving’s last with the team, the Celtics started 7-6. One could argue the Celtics were as excited about the change to Irving then as they are about the change to Walker now; hence the quick starts. That’s a valid argument, but the question was about production, with a caveat about mental makeup. The production argument has been put to rest so far this season. And we haven’t heard word one about a flat Earth, existential musings on philosophy or selfish talk about what other players should be doing. No, all we’ve heard about these 11-2 Eastern Conference -leading Boston Celtics is potential overachieving and what they’re capable of. I like the current chatter a lot more than any nonsense about...what was that guy’s name?