This weekend was a tough one for Boston sports fans, as the New England Patriots’ season unceremoniously ended at the hands of the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game.
But all hope is not lost on the local sports scene. In fact, hope springs eternal at TD Garden.
If you’ve spent the last several months immersed in football, you’ve missed the emergence of a promising, hungry Boston Celtics squad that’s making a name for itself in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
Believe it or not, the Celtics enter Tuesday as the No. 5 seed in the East with a 25-21 record. Of course, the team has its fair share of flaws, but after leading his club to a surprise playoff run last season, third-year head coach Brad Stevens has the C’s looking more and more like they belong.
To catch you up to speed, here are five things you need to know about the 2015-16 Celtics:
1. ISAIAH THOMAS SHOULD BE AN ALL-STAR
Thomas is having his best season as a pro and deserves a spot in the 2016 NBA All-Star Game.
The 5-foot-9 guard has been the Celtics’ offensive lifeblood, often bailing out Boston with monster scoring performances. His 21.7 points and 6.7 assists per game both are team highs, and his 21.9 player efficiency rating is the best among East point guards outside the Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry, who’s an All-Star starter.
Thomas has a chance join Lowry when the All-Star reserves are announced Thursday. He deserves the recognition.
2. JAE CROWDER IS A STUD
Thomas is the Celtics’ leading scorer, but Crowder arguably has been Boston’s best all-around player to date.
The 25-year-old swingman is thriving in his first full season in Boston. He’s the only Celtic to start every game this season and has been a beast defensively, often matching up against the opponent’s best player. But his greatest strides have come on offense, where he’s enjoying career numbers across the board: 14.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game and a .453 field goal percentage.
3. MARCUS SMART MAKES A DIFFERENCE — WHEN HEALTHY
The injury bug has bitten Smart hard in his second NBA season. The 21-year-old guard missed more than a month of action with a left knee injury and has played in just 25 of the team’s 46 games.
Yet Smart is an impact player when he’s healthy, especially on defense: Boston’s defensive rating when he’s on the court (96.5) is significantly better than when he’s not (99.6). Smart has struggled to find his offensive rhythm this season, but the Celtics will need his defensive presence down the stretch if they want to compete in the postseason.
4. THERE’S A NUMBERS PROBLEM IN THE FRONTCOURT
Simply put, Boston has too many big men. Jared Sullinger, Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk have earned the most minutes in Stevens’ rotation, but that’s come at the expense of Tyler Zeller and David Lee: Zeller is averaging just 9.1 minutes per game after playing more than 20 minutes per game last season, and Lee has played only once in Boston’s last 13 games.
If the Celtics make a move before the February trade deadline, it likely will involve the frontcourt. Lee is on an expiring contract, and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has plenty of draft picks at his disposal to put together an enticing package.
5. THE CELTICS COULD MAKE A SERIOUS STRETCH RUN
The C’s have the chance to earn a solid playoff spot if they can take care of business down the stretch: 21 of their remaining 36 games, including seven of their next 10, are against opponents with losing records.
The East is incredibly crowded, as less than five games separate the No. 3 and No. 12 seeds. Boston has struggled at times against weaker opponents this season, but the opportunity is there for the C’s to make a legitimate leap from last season’s No. 7 finish.
Thumbnail photo via Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) and guard Avery Bradley (0) react to a score against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Celtics won 112-92.
Powered by WordPress.com VIP