My high school science teacher always used to ask, “Is it cause and effect, or correlation?”
Years later, Mr. Baker’s question still pops into my head from time to time. Like after the Boston Celtics won their fifth consecutive game Thursday night, downing the LA Lakers 121-113.
They’re four games over .500 for the first time since January 25th and tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference with the Atlanta Hawks. It’s just their third run of more than two consecutive victories on the campaign.
So have the Celtics walked into five straight wins, or are significant factors at play that have turned the season around?
In beating the Knicks, Minnesota, Denver, Portland and the Lakers, the C’s haven’t defeated an elite team at full strength. The Lakers are 6-9 since LeBron James joined Anthony Davis on the sideline nearly a month ago. The Nuggets were without one of the best guards in the league in Jamal Murray. The T-Wolves are the worst team in the NBA, and the Knicks – despite a respectable effort of late – continue to be defined by losing seasons in 16 of the last 19 years.
Further, the games themselves have produced plenty of “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” reflux. On Thursday, the bench couldn’t put away the depleted Lakers in the fourth despite a 27-point lead, bringing the starters back out in the final minutes. In Denver, the Green shot 7-for-33 from downtown and trailed by 14 points late in the third quarter. They faced a 17-point second half deficit against Minnesota, then frittered away an eight-point fourth quarter advantage to wind up in overtime.
Nonetheless, they’re piling up W’s. On Thursday night, Jaylen Brown’s historic performance (40 points on 17-of-20 shooting) set the tone. Jayson Tatum iced the Blazers with a late triple to top off a 32-point effort on Tuesday. He tossed in a career-high 53 (they needed pretty much all of it) to fend off the Wolves. And on Sunday, the C’s made an MVP candidate quit in the fourth quarter.
You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the 2020-21 Celtics. They may not be what you want them to be, but they’re winning again. It isn’t always pretty; the whole season’s been a mess, starting with C’s players missing more time than any team in the league for COVID-related reasons. Tatum says he’s still using an inhaler before games. Just as we were quick to anoint the 23-year-old as the next big thing last year, we were quick to criticize as the team underperformed while the fourth year Duke product waxed poetic about potato chips.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk hoops with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.