Celtics

Celtics Rising Above Roadblocks

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After having their last three games postponed due to COVID, the Boston Celtics are set to return to the hardwood for the first time in a week. Before the stoppage, they were enjoying a comfortable ride atop the Eastern Conference.

With Kemba Walker missing extended time due to injury, many thought the Celtics would not contend. Despite that, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and company are proving their start is more than just luck.

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Heading into the offseason, there were not many needs for this Brad Stevens-led team. Their most-notable weakness had been down low, especially against Bam Adebayo and the Miami Heat. Boston’s bench had been lackluster at times too, costing them key games.

Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge did an excellent job of addressing these needs by signing veterans Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague. Additionally, rookies Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith were drafted to fortify their offense. All these moves have helped reinforce Boston’s lineup, but their early-season success is led by the trio of Tatum, Brown and Marcus Smart.

On paper, this year’s Celtics undoubtedly look better. Mixed with the improvement of their returning players, this team is primed for another deep playoff run. After 10 games, it is clear Jayson and Jaylen have taken another big leap in their respective careers.

At just 22, Tatum is leading Boston in scoring while making an impact on the glass, averaging 26.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per contest. Similarly, Brown is posting 26.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Their numbers may decline slightly when Kemba returns, but their consistent play proves the duo is as good as any in the league.

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Tatum can score on any given night, which makes Brown’s play much more important. The 24-year-old makes positive strides each season as a talented two-way player. Their scoring output is one of the main reasons why the Celtics are atop the East, but it takes a lot more than the contributions of two players for a team to be that good.

Last year, Jaylen’s scoring would disappear at times when needed or he would have a costly defensive lapse. Despite this, Brown’s overall growth continues game after game. His offseason work along with increased confidence plays a vital part in his game taking another big step. An improved Jaylen will be a difference maker this season, especially upon Kemba’s return.

Fortified Frontcourt

Inking Tristan Thompson provides Boston a much-needed upgrade in the frontcourt. Although he may not be a top-tier big man, his rebounding, rim protection and defense creates a better matchup against the likes of Joel Embiid and the aforementioned Adebayo.

Alongside Thompson’s presence, Daniel Theis and Robert Williams have looked great thus far. Both have contributed solid minutes for a Boston team that needed better production from their frontcourt. Specifically, Williams is growing into his role as a competent rim protector. A combination of these factors can be what pushes the Celtics to The Finals.

Mixing Experience With Youth

The most-notable backcourt addition came with the 26th overall pick in the 2020 draft, Payton Pritchard. The former Oregon standout may not have been the ideal pick in the eyes of fans, but his play has translated to the NBA thus far. The rookie seems to have impressed Coach Stevens, leaping over fellow youngsters Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters in the depth chart.

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Of course, one cannot forget about Celtic favorite Marcus Smart. The former Oklahoma State guard proved to be one of the league’s best defensive guards and two-way players. The heart-and-soul of the C’s, Smart looks to build on his critical postseason performance. Although known for his defense, Smart has worked on his offensive touch. Similarly, he uses his aggressive play to contribute offensively.

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Looking at this year’s Celtics thus far, they’ve exemplified growth and improvement from last year’s squad while adding key pieces. The mixture of experienced veterans with promising rookies may pay dividends this season. Ainge’s small yet significant moves prove why he is one of the best GMs in the league. They haven’t missed a beat without Kemba and could even be looked at as Eastern Conference favorites upon his return.

Follow us on Twitter @CelticsLead for the latest Celtics news and insight. 

About AJ Mitchell

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