CHARLOTTE – The Boston Celtics surged Thursday night into a tie with the Los Angeles Lakers for the best record in the NBA. The scary news is that they believe they’re far from reaching their peak.
Boston’s sixth and most recent victory, logged Thursday night in blowout fashion in Charlotte, was far and away the team’s most complete performance of the season. However, following the 108-87 win over a previously 4-3 team, every player and coach who stepped in front of a microphone stated that the team is capable of playing at a much higher level.
“We have a lot of room to improve,” head coach Brad Stevens told reporters. “We’ve got to get better.”
Added Jaylen Brown, “I think we have another level we can tap into.”
Stevens and Brown were just two of more than a handful of members of the team who made similar comments inside the winning locker room. Their comments weren’t a farce; they were of true belief.
Boston also believes that it is improving at a steady pace as the season goes on. The C’s will undoubtedly tap into that next level Brown alluded to if they continue to develop at a similar rate as they have over the first couple of weeks of the season.
The Celtics are playing with more consistency every time they take the court. Both their offense and their defense have improved leaps and bounds since Opening Night, when they suffered their only loss of the season to Philadelphia. As evidence, they set a season high Thursday night in assists with 29, while also setting a season low in points allowed with 87.
Yet the hunger to continue to improve remains strong. That is an early-season sign of a very promising team.
Boston is not signaling any presence of complacency, nor is it acting satisfied. That’s why, following a 21-point victory on the road, the Celtics spoke more about what they did wrong than what they did right.
Gordon Hayward, who notched a double-double against Charlotte with 20 points and 10 rebounds, was one member of the team who made such comments Thursday night. He did his best to single out the areas in which he and his teammates can tighten things up moving forward.
“I think we have lapses defensively, and we have moments where we just give up easy points and buckets,” he said. “I think offensively, too, we have lulls where we kind of try to hit home runs and try to do it individually.”
Kemba Walker agreed, saying that despite the team’s 6-1 record, Boston has yet to put together a full 48 minutes of strong basketball.
“We’ve been winning, of course, but I don’t think we’ve really put together a full game yet,” he admitted after his return to Charlotte. “We’re just playing in spurts right now. We just need to get better, and we will.”
With all of that being said, there is so much to be excited about with regard to how this team is playing right now.
This team seems to be seeking out quality shots far more often than last season’s team. The ball movement is crisp, and players are making the correct reads on when to shoot and when to pass. They trust each other.
Likewise, this season’s starting unit feels cohesive, whereas last season’s starting group felt disjointed. Each member of the “big four” in the starting lineup of Walker, Brown, Jayson Tatum and Hayward has already led the team in scoring at least once during the first seven games of the season. The best part about that trend is that each member of the group has been genuinely happy about their teammates’ success, and they have all shown comfort in taking a back seat on offense when it’s someone else’s night.
Then there is the depth, which has shown to be a surprising strength all the way to the end of the rotation. Similar to the starting unit, it feels like a different reserve steps up each night.
Thursday night, it was Brad Wanamaker and Javonte Green who played at a high level for Boston. Wanamaker was superb in his reserve guard role, scoring nine points to go along with three rebounds, three assists and two steals during less than 17 minutes of playing time. Javonte Green, meanwhile, scored 12 points on 5-for-9 shooting during less than 13 minutes of action.
Wanamaker and Green are just the latest examples of reserves providing a boost off the bench. Already through seven games, Stevens has seen those two, as well as Semi Ojeleye, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards and Rob Williams play key roles in victories.
Surely, there is a lot to be excited about in Boston. The team is in first place, it’s playing like a true team, and it’s enjoying every step of the journey.
But, as many members of the team made sure to point out Thursday night, Boston is nowhere near where it wants to be.
“I definitely like where we’re at right now,” Tatum commented, “but nobody’s satisfied.”
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