Five Things We've Learned About the C's in Their First 10 Games
BOSTON – The Boston Celtics have already plowed through their first 10 games of the season with a 6-4 start. Along the way, they have displayed plenty of promise in some areas, while also showing that there is still room for substantial improvement in others.
Ten games is a small sample size to judge, but these first few weeks of the regular season have revealed a few early patterns that could factor into the team’s ultimate identity. So, here is what we’ve learned so far about the 2018-19 version of the C’s.
No.1 – Defense Remains the Staple
The Celtics’ defense has opened up the season right where it left off last spring: atop the NBA rankings.
While offensive numbers have skyrocketed across the league, Boston has remained steadfast on the defensive end, allowing an NBA-low 101.3 points per game. That number is remarkable considering that 18 teams are scoring at least 110 PPG, including seven of Boston’s first 10 opponents.
The key for the Celtics has been their perimeter defense. Opponents of Boston are shooting a league-low 29.6 percent from 3-point range, which has helped the C’s hold their foes to a field goal percentage of just 42.2 percent.
Boston’s length and versatility present a frustrating combination for opposing offenses, and that has allowed the team to continue to set the bar defensively.
No. 2 – An Offense Still Finding its Way
While Boston’s defense has been second to none this season, its offense has told a different story. The Celtics have been inconsistent on that end of the court to start the season, leading to an offensive rating of 103.5. Only three teams in the NBA have tallied a lower number thus far.
The good news is that most of Boston’s offensive struggles came during the first five games of the season, when the team was just beginning to form its chemistry. The C’s produced a 99.2 offensive rating during those contests, but then discovered a solid rhythm during Game 5 in Oklahoma City, where they staged a 16-point, comeback win.
The C’s have ridden that momentum ever since, posting a 107.8 offensive rating over their last five games, good for 17th in the league during that span.
By improving its ball movement over the last few games, Boston has been able to establish a stronger offensive flow that it started out with. And although the team still ranks near the bottom of the league on that end of the floor, it is at least showing signs of growth.
No. 3 – Living and Dying by the 3
One trend that has stood out on the offensive end has been Boston’s high-volume of 3-pointers. The Celtics are tossing up 36.7 triples per game, increasing last season’s rate by 20.8 percent. Only Houston and Milwaukee have attempted more deep balls per game.
Boston is sinking 12.9 of those long-range attempts per game, which, if maintained, would be the highest average of makes in franchise history. The team already penned a new single-game franchise record Nov. 1 when it knocked down 24 treys against the Milwaukee Bucks, smashing its previous mark of 19, while falling just one shy of the NBA's all-time single-game mark.
The Celtics have admitted, however, that they rely too much on their 3-point shooting at times. More than 37 percent of their scoring production has come from beyond the arc, while only 35.3 percent of their points have come from within the paint.
Boston hopes to round out its offense by driving to the hoop more often, which could also help them create more contact at the rim. In doing so, the team would raise its sub-par free-throw rate, which, at 19.0 attempts per game, is on pace for the lowest average in franchise history.
No. 4 – Patience with the Returning Stars
Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving both showed signs of rust at the start of the season, but that should be expected for two players who went several months without playing competitive basketball.
Hayward has averaged 10.1 PPG through his first nine appearances, which is less than half of his scoring average from his 2016-17 All-Star campaign. However, it’s important to remember that he went nearly 11 months without playing 5-on-5 basketball following his season-ending ankle injury last October.
It takes time to regain trust in one’s body after such a serious injury, and Hayward is going through that process right now, while also playing on a 25-minute restriction. Still, he has shown glimpses of his former self, like when he scored 18 points against Milwaukee last week to help Boston beat the previously undefeated Bucks.
Irving, who underwent season-ending knee surgery in March, also displayed some initial signs of rust upon his return. The five-time All-Star averaged just 14.0 PPG on 39.1 percent shooting from the field and 24.1 percent shooting from 3 during the first six games, but it appears as though he’s turned a corner. Irving scored 28-plus points during three of his last four games, all while shooting 60 percent from the field and 56.3 percent from deep during that span.
For Hayward, returning to form may take a bit more time than it would for Irving, given that he missed roughly twice as much time. In the meantime, it’s vital to remain patient and to trust the rehab process, because Hyaward still possesses all of the tools that made him into an All-Star two seasons ago.
No. 5 – BWA has Come to Play
If an opposing offense gets off to a hot start against the Celtics’ starting five, then there’s a good chance that it will hit a brick wall once the second unit comes in.
Stacked with defensive studs like Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris, Semi Ojeleye, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis, Boston’s “Bench With Attitude” is a force to be reckoned with.
The leader of the group has been Morris, who also happens to be the person who coined the BWA moniker. The eight-year veteran is off to the best start of his career, posting averages of 14.7 PPG and 6.9 RPG, while shooting 51 percent from the field and 49 percent from deep.
When Morris is paired with Baynes, Rozier and Smart, the Celtics are just about unstoppable. That four-man combination is outscoring opposing teams by 33 points per 100 possessions when they’re on the floor together, which is the best rate of any Celtics quartet.
Most of Boston’s reserves have the talent to be starters on other teams, and many of them have been in the past. But they have all expressed willingness to make sacrifices for the betterment of the team, knowing that this group has a unique level of talent and depth to make a long postseason run.