Celtics are starting to act together

BOSTON – Facts Celtics have spent recent years as a group of most. Almost good enough to compete for the NBA championship. Almost mature enough to reach their potential. Almost complete enough to play at a high level consistently.

But the series of explanations would be an improvement from all the questions and concerns the Celtics began gathering at the start of the season. It’s never been more fun when each game is like a kneeling test – by Ime Udoka First season as the team’s coach, about the chemistry experiment between Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, about the growth of the players around them.

So when Marcus Smart, the team’s starting point guard, criticized Tatum and Brown for essentially hooking the ball after their November 1 loss to the Chicago Bulls, Boston seemed at risk of early dysfunction. .

Since then, however, something unusual has happened: Celtics won three of the four games for a spot among the best under .500 teams in the NBA ahead of the game against defending champion Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night.

“I think we were joking to some extent,” said Udoka, adding, “We’re learning the intensity and effort it takes to win every night.”

The Celtics, who improved to 5-6 by beating the Toronto Raptors, 104-88, on Wednesday, surprisingly defended, scored, recovered and won. For someone like Udoka who is just starting his senior job, that can’t happen anytime soon. Strange but true: The Celtics’ win over the Raptors was their first home win of the season. The challenge now is to maintain that momentum.

“I don’t think anyone in the dressing room will be upset about the loss,” said reserve guard Josh Richardson. “Just trying to improve. I think we’re all starting to find our footing. “

There have been growing pains. In the opening game at home on October 22, the Celtics made it difficult to lose 32 points to the Raptors and were basically booed on the field. It was a blow that came at the hands of a young team that many were pegged as bound for the draft lottery. But Scottie Barnes, the Raptors’ first-year forward, has been a revelation, and he looks like the best player on the field. Udoka laments his team’s lack of effort.

Sadly for Boston, that game was not an anomaly. In early November, things seemed to bottom out when the Bulls, after trailing 19 points, trailed the Celtics 39-11 in the fourth inning with a 14-point win. Smart then called Brown and Tatum during a press conference. It’s no secret, Smart said at the time, that opponents are focusing defensively on those two players, especially in late-game situations. Problem?

“They don’t want to pass the ball,” Smart said.

Brown and Tatum weren’t happy when Smart made their observations public. A player-only meeting followed, which was rarely a good sign. Except the Celtics then won two in a row before closing the three-game run with a narrow loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday – a game Brown missed with a hamstring injury. On Wednesday morning, however, Brown expressed a sense of letdown: optimism.

“The spirit of this team is different,” he said, “and we will keep pushing. I can feel it. I think things are bound to change.”

Udoka, also said ahead of Wednesday’s game that his team was finding its identity, a bit of a coach’s words that would have a short shelf life with another uneven performance.

But in their rematch with the Raptors, the Celtics took a 16-point lead after halftime and cruise. They did it without Brown, who was sidelined again, and without a masterful night of shots from Tatum, who was eighth of 24 coming on but finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 7 construction. All five opening matches have scored at least 10 points, and Richardson has 15 points when coming on from the bench.

Robert Williams III, the team’s warm-up center, said Boston has been building more cohesion thanks to a series of team dinners hosted by veterans and a greater emphasis on communication. when practicing.

“I feel like we are bonding, learning about each other,” he said.

The Celtics have made seven consecutive appearances after the season, including three in the Eastern Conference finals, most recently in 2020. But after the team clinched a 36-36 record of the season. tournament and losing to the Nets in the first round of the playoffs, Brad Stevens left his coaching job to move to the main office and was replaced by Udoka on the bench.

And while the Celtics have been a longtime playoff team, their roster isn’t exactly static. For example, they cycled past a colorful starting point guard: Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker. This season, Smart has taken care of the point, with Dennis Schroder – one of the team’s big season signings – also providing stoppage time.

Team rotation is still a work in progress for Udoka, who must have known there would be increasing difficulties but was ready for a quick change. Consider that he appeared determined, at least early in the season, to have his defenders on screen. He has become more flexible depending on the matches.

“We are mixing some drinks,” he said. “We discovered what they did better than we did in pre-season, and I think, as coaches, we’ve also learned.”

As for Smart, he doesn’t seem interested in re-emphasizing his remarks about Tatum and Brown following Wednesday’s win. When asked about the players-only meeting and how the past few days have been going for him, he said, “We had a great game.”

He added, “We played really well.”

In the end, maybe that’s all that matters.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/11/sports/basketball/nba-celtics-raptors.html Celtics are starting to act together

Curtis Crabtree

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