The Boston Celtics both kept themselves from an early exit in the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament on Tuesday night and backed the confidence from afar provided by Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley.

Entering an early-season matchup with a subpar Chicago Bulls team in need of a 23-point win to escape Group C and advance to the quarterfinal round, Boston did not disappoint. The Celtics pulled out all the stops, keeping their foot on the gas pedal to ensure Chicago wouldn’t fight back and Boston would punch its ticket to a date with the Indiana Pacers.

As the leaders of the Eastern Conference with an NBA-best 14-4 record after 18 games into their 2023-24 run, the Celtics haven’t proven Barkley’s preseason assessment wrong thus far.

“The reason I picked the Celtics to win the championship, and I’ve seen nothing — I thought that Jrue Holiday was gonna help Jayson (Tatum) and Jaylen (Brown) because they take terrible shots at times,” Barkley said Tuesday night on TNT. “I think he’s gonna put them in better position to score so they don’t have to take terrible shots. And there’s no better fourth guy in the NBA than (Kristaps) Porzingis. When we’re talking about star, star, star, Porzingis is the best No. 4 in the NBA. I think coach (Joe) Mazzulla has matured. He got a better coaching staff, in my opinion.”

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Granted, the season’s not even 20% complete yet, but so far, everything’s clicking in favor of the Celtics and the offseason work done by the front office and ownership.

Boston’s identity has leaned toward a more efficient offense that, at times, still tends to rely on the outside shot too much, but has managed to utilize the inside game much more. Brown and 7-foot-3 Porzingis can expose defenses with an effective pick-and-roll, giving the Celtics a deadly rim-attacking tandem that’s a nightmare for opponents.

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Not many teams have that luxury.

“It’s gonna be up to the Milwaukee Bucks and my (Philadelphia) 76ers. They got to get up,” Barkley added. “The Celtics are not going to come down.”

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Last season, the Celtics coughed up the No. 1 seed and still have plenty of work to do in order to take ownership of that spot for good.

Featured image via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images