Celtics Feeling Playoff-Ready After Logging Fourth Straight Win
Upon entering the NBA bubble in mid-July, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens laid out one short-term goal for his team: to be playing its best basketball by Aug. 17 – the first day of the Playoffs.
With the way things are trending, Boston could reach its goal with a few days to spare.
After starting 1-2 inside the bubble, the Celtics turned a corner to discover their best rhythm of the season.
It began last Wednesday night when Boston thrashed the Brooklyn Nets 149-115 in its best offensive outing in nearly 28 years. The C’s carried their momentum into Friday night’s matchup against a Toronto Raptors team that had won 24 of its last 28 outings and shocked the defending champs with a 122-100 blowout win.
On Sunday night, the C’s ran into some trouble against the Orlando Magic, but their composure never wavered as they staged a last-minute comeback in regulation that eventually resulted in a 122-117 overtime win.
Finally, on Tuesday night, Boston returned to its dominant ways by mauling a desperate Memphis Grizzlies team, 122-100, for its fourth consecutive victory.
Now, with only Thursday’s game against the Washington Wizards standing in their way, the Celtics can confidently say that they are prepared for postseason basketball.
“I think we’re ready,” Jayson Tatum said following Tuesday night’s win, during which he poured in a game-high 29 points on an efficient 10-of-13 shooting from the field. “Obviously we need to continue to get better, and I think we have from Game 1 being down here to now. I think we just continue to get better each and every game, and that’s what you want this time of the year is to continue to get better at the right time of the season.”
Where the Celtics have improved most is in the passing game. During their first three bubble matchups, the team averaged just 19.0 assists per game. However, that number has risen to an impressive 29.3 APG over the last five contests.
Boston’s defense has also done a solid job over the last few outings after a rough start in Florida. On Friday, the C’s held Toronto to its worst shooting half of the season, and then on Tuesday, they held Memphis under 40 percent shooting from the field and under 25 percent from 3-point range.
“We’re just going to try to keep playing as well as we can and try to be the best that we can be,” Stevens said in regard to the positive trends he's witnessed on both ends. “I thought we did a lot of good things tonight (against Memphis), and I felt like guys really tried to play the right way on both ends of the floor tonight.
“Hopefully we can just keep getting better. The way the ball has been moving has been good and guys are covering for one another, but we know that we have less than a week or maybe a week before we open a playoff series, so we better be getting good.”
The best indicator of Boston’s playoff readiness in Kemba Walker’s mind is its focus level, which was on display Tuesday night against a Grizzlies team that was fighting for its postseason life.
“Tonight, we were really focused and locked in,” said Walker after tallying 19 points on an efficient 7-of-10 shooting effort. “We knew that Memphis was going to come out and just play hard like they do each and every night. But we’ve definitely come a long way and we’re jelling really well. We’re having fun competing at a very high level. I think we’re feeling pretty ready.”