Don’t look now, but the Celtics have won five of six following a rough start to the new year. Perhaps most impressively, they've made the run despite a slew of injuries, as Jaylen Brown (sprained thumb), Enes Kanter (right hip contusion) and Jayson Tatum (groin strain) each missed multiple contests during the stretch.
Kanter and Kemba Walker (sore knee) are questionable for Saturday night's game against the Sixers.
The mini-streak buoyed the Celtics in the Eastern Conference standings after their post-holiday drift. They're currently tied with Miami for third place, two games back of Toronto. The Raptors have surged for ten straight wins, and the gap between second and sixth (Philadelphia) in the conference - four games - is as large as its been all season.
We've finally made it to the trading deadline. The next week could have a big impact on how the East plays out over the final two months of the regular season.
Starman, Waiting In the Sky
Jayson Tatum got the call as an All-Star reserve this week, continuing to heap plaudits over the course of his third year leap. He's averaging nearly six more points per game compared to last season and his defense has never been so highly regarded.
Jaylen Brown didn't get the call, despite numbers that are nearly as impressive and perhaps more efficient. Don't rule out an appearance as a potential injury replacement.
It's a good problem to have, this discontent over the Celtics having just two All-Stars. But it's tough out there. The East is as good as its been in years.
Who should have stayed home? Many picked at the merits of Domantas Sabonis, but the Pacers are legitimately good and need a representative. Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry and Khris Middleton got the call as second bananas on the other top teams in the East. Middelton's numbers are similar to Brown's, and the Bucks are number one with a bullet.
Adebayo has been a revelation. I'd tell Lowry to stay home, but that opinion is probably clouded by my dislike of him as a player. He's now a six-time All-Star selection.
Perhaps this can be a motivating factor for Brown. I recently had this conversation with a friend: the Celtics need to double down on their current model to get out of the East. One big man acquisition doesn’t put them over Milwaukee or Philly in a seven-game series. Rather, it will be a test of the Mamba Mentality within Tatum (a noted Kobe admirer), or Brown, or both. While Tatum is basking in praise one could have anticipated, Brown - the less-polished of the two prospects and the guy who came off the bench last year - has yet another thing to disprove.
Boston has four players capable of ruining anybody's night (and another in Marcus Smart who once hit 11 threes in a game). If Jaylen Brown can ruin a series for some Eastern Conference contender, that'd really be something.
The Celtics’ win in Miami was their biggest road victory of the season. The Heat were 20-2 at home coming into the contest, with Boston a ho-hum 12-10 away from TD Garden. They'd fumbled away a stirring performance at Staples Center against the Clippers and weren't able to knock off contenders in Milwaukee, Philly, Indiana, Dallas or Denver in their own gyms.
Prior to vanquishing the Crockett and Tubbs cosplayers, their biggest road win had been Christmas Day in Toronto, with the Raptos missing three-fifths of their starting lineup.
Gordon Hayward has averaged 21.3 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists, shooting a blistering 52 percent (48 percent from downtown) over the last seven games. Many seem to think, “that’s great, it helps his trade value.”
What can the Celtics get on the trade market that helps the team any more than that?
Meanwhile, Kemba Walker has made the transition to "efficient NBA superstar." The now four-time All-Star averaged a career-high 25.6 points last year in Charlotte. But it took him 20.5 attempts per game. This year, Walker is tallying 22 points a night - a downtick of 3.6 points per game - but is taking 3.6 fewer shots to get there.
A major factor has been his second-best performance from behind the arc in his career: 38.8 percent going into Saturday’s game. It’s not an elite figure, but has made an already scary offensive talent even more lethal.
Coming Up Next
The Green are 0-3 against Philadelphia heading into Saturday night.
They've outscored Boston by 31 points over the three meetings. Philly comes into the matchup fresh off a 10-point loss to Atlanta Thursday night in Joel Embiid’s second game back from injury. Their fabled defense ceded 127 points and Trae Young ran wild for 39 points and 18 assists. They're sixth in the East, but just two games back of the Green.
The Hawks are 5-5 in their last 10 games, with additional wins over the Clippers and Spurs, and the Celtics will see them twice next week (Monday and Friday), with Orlando as the creme filling (Wednesday) of the upcoming slate.