Boston Celtics Prepare For Season Defining Stretch


The Boston Celtics finished their recent four-game road trip on a positive note with back-to-back victories, pulling themselves back to an even .500 at 23-23.  Just a few days ago Boston was lifeless for two and a half quarters against the Milwaukee Bucks.  They fell behind by 25 before turning up their intensity and clawing all the way back into the game, only to come up a couple of points short in the end. 

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You wonder if two months from now we'll look back at that game as the turning point in their season.  Two nights later they throttled that same Milwaukee team for 48 minutes.  The next night, after a sluggish first half against Oklahoma City, Boston outscored the Thunder by 22 in the second half and earned themselves a victory.

Now, they return home and will kick off a seven game homestand that has a chance to define the rest of their season.  As I write this, the Celtics have played the most road games of any team in the NBA and are tied for the fewest home games.  It's time to enjoy some home-cooking.  They currently sit at 7th in the Eastern Conference, part of that jumbled mess of teams between 4th - 9th.  These next seven games are the perfect opportunity to create some separation from the pack.

Of these next seven games, four will come against playoff teams; three of which are Eastern Conference teams that sit ahead of them in the standings (Charlotte, New York and Philadelphia).  The other playoff team is Dallas.  They'll also play a New Orleans team that already beat them this year - in embarrassing fashion, I might add - and two teams at the bottom of the Western Conference in Minnesota and Houston.

Boston will be meeting Minnesota and Charlotte for the first time this year during this stretch.  However, for the other five teams, they have a combined record of just 1-5.  This is a perfect opportunity for Boston to show exactly what type of team they are going to be the rest of this season. 

Is this a consistently inconsistent team that will continue to ebb and flow, finished right around .500, and be lucky to get out of the first round of the playoffs?  Or can they show an ability to consistently play a full 48 minutes, string some wins together and be the team we all expected at the start of the year? 

When Tatum, Brown and Walker are all clicking, we've seen how potent this offense can be.  They've beaten Milwaukee twice, the Clippers twice, and the Nuggets.  They can compete with any team on their best day.  I'm not saying they are a championship team, but the talent is there for a deep playoff run.  When they are sharing the basketball is when they are at their best.  That's why these past few games have been encouraging.

The Celtics sit 24th out of 30 teams in assists per game with 23.  However, they're averaging more than 26 assists in their last five games.  This is something I was hoping the return of Marcus Smart would help.  Smart is their leading assist man, but in the first few games of his return, it felt like he was trying to do too much by himself. 

Maybe he was trying to get himself back on track after a long layoff, or with the team struggling, he was pressing a bit.  I felt that his return would with the ball movement issues that were plaguing the Celtics and causing their offense to be stale at times.  He's starting to return to that facilitator role, with five or more assists in five of the last six games. 

It's so important for guys like Brown and Tatum to get easy buckets, so they can expend more energy on the defensive end.  If they have to work hard for baskets every trip down the floor, they're naturally going to take some possessions off defensively to recover. 

Speaking of defense, that's something else that has been trending in the right direction these past few games.  The Celtics have been more active and intense on the defensive side.  Pressuring the ball, deflecting passes, rotating and contesting shots.  This is the type of defensive effort we've grown accustomed to under Brad Stevens. 

It's no coincidence that the insertion of Robert Williams into the starting lineup has helped.  His activity has energized his teammates. In his two starts since the trade of Daniel Theis, Williams has 16 points, 23 rebounds, eight assists, seven blocks and four steals.  He's literally been everywhere, impacting the game in every sense.  His passing ability should not go unmentioned either. 

Things have looked promising for Boston the past couple of games, and with the eventual addition of Evan Fournier, there's reason for optimism.  However, we've seen this story before this year.  Short spurts of great play, followed by stretches of poor play.  They won four consecutive games right before the All Star break, only to return from the break and lose four of five. 

This will be their longest stretch at home all season and is the perfect opportunity to reset, enjoy the comforts of home and build some momentum against some quality competition.  How they come out of this seven game stretch will be a great indicator on what we can expect out of them the rest of the season.

Follow Derek on Twitter @mcvay34.

Check out Above The Parquet, the Syndicate’s podcast dedicated solely to the Boston Celtics and the rest of the NBA.  Follow on Twitter @AboveTheParquet.

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Boston Celtics Prepare For Season Defining Stretch
Boston Celtics Prepare For Season Defining Stretch
Boston Sports Syndicate
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