Eight games into the 2013-14 NBA season, the Celtics are 4-4. An average record on paper, but considering the expectations people outside the team had going into the year, they are performing quite well. The Celtics have won four straight games heading into Wednesday’s matchup with the Charlotte Bobcats, and people are actually talking about them when it was anticipated that they would be an afterthought. It may still be too early to label them any kind of a contender, but for now, the way this team has been winning is attributable to many factors.
Coach Brad Stevens was hired by the Celtics at age 36 after coaching at Butler University for six seasons. He gained fame by leading Butler to back-to-back NCAA title game appearances in 2010 and 2011. After the departure of longtime Celtics coach Doc Rivers this year, Stevens was hired to coach the team despite having no NBA experience.
With no bona fide superstars, Stevens has shown that effective coaching can get the most out of players that may not have the most talent but do have enough skill to win when working together. The “Brad Stevens Era’’ began with four straight losses, but the young coach was not fazed and kept working with his team and making adjustments to get them their first win Nov. 6 against Utah.
Stevens’s calm and collected tone has proven to be effective in the four straight wins; it was most apparent in the win against Miami when he did not show any emotion despite Jeff Green hitting a desperation 3-pointer as time expired to win by 1 point.
Even if the Celtics fall out of the playoff hunt early, Stevens has proven that he knows how to win, and once this team can gather the right pieces, this young coach has the skills to lead the Celtics back to the top of the NBA.
One of the best ways to rack up points in basketball is to pull down your own rebounds, and the Celtics have been above average in that category. Through eight games, they have managed 85 offensive rebounds, good for 12th in the league. The Celtics have an offensive rebound percentage of 27 percent, also 12th in the league. Rookie Kelly Olynyk has 16 offensive rebounds himself, tied for 34th in the league, and has provided a youthful boost to a position that has yet to find stability since the Celtcs traded Kendrick Perkins in the 2010-11 season. Brandon Bass, Vitor Faverati, Jared Sullinger, and Avery Bradley all have double-digit totals in offensive rebounds.
It’s early, but just one year has made a difference in this crucial category, as the 2012-13 Celtics finished last in the NBA with an offensive rebound percentage of 20.1, while they were 25th in the league in giving up offensive rebounds. This year’s squad is currently 28th in that category, but pulling down more of their own rebounds will help negate some of the extra chances they give opponents.
Moving Avery Bradley off point guard
Avery Bradley, when healthy, has been one of the best man-on defenders on the Celtics over the past few seasons. He even worked his way into the starting lineup in 2011-12, replacing star shooting guard Ray Allen. But with Rajon Rondo missing the first part of the season, and Bradley one of the most tenured players on the team, the Celtics had moved him to point guard. That proved to be a mistake, as Bradley was ineffective at both ends while playing the point over the first few games of the season.
After seeing his downgraded play, coach Brad Stevens decided to move Bradley off the point. The move worked wonders, as Bradley has regained his defensive abilities and scoring touch without having the responsibility of commanding the floor. In the past two games, against Miami and Orlando, Bradley has played 59 minutes, scored 41 points (including 24 Monday), and has a field goal percentage of 62.1. He also has six steals in his past three games and has been applying the constant pressure that has made him so valuable to have on the floor over the past few seasons.
The play of Jordan Crawford
With Rajon Rondo absent from the lineup, and Avery Bradley proving ineffective at point guard, Brad Stevens decided to call on Jordan Crawford to command the floor for the time being. Crawford was a highly touted player coming out of college – he was a first-round draft pick by the New Jersey Nets in 2010 – but struggled to find consistency in the NBA, bouncing from Atlanta and Washington before arriving in Boston at midseason in 2012-13.
Crawford averaged just 9.1 points per game in 27 appearances for the Celtics last season, but he seems to have found his niche with Brad Stevens at the helm. Since Avery Bradley moved to shooting guard and Jordan Crawford moved to the point, the pair has given the Celtics a great backcourt boost and has been a major factor in the four consecutive wins. Crawford has scored more than 12 points in five of eight games this year and his assist numbers have been way up, including a double-double with 16 points and 10 assists in Monday’s win over Orlando.
They figured out how to score
Through four games, the Celtics averaged 87.5 points per game – breaking 90 just once – while giving up 95 points per game. Over the last four, however, they have averaged 104.7 points per game, their low total being 91, and got well over 100 in each of the last two games against Miami and Orlando.
Jeff Green is leading the team with 16.9 ppg, while Avery Bradley is second with 13.3, Brandon Bass is third with 12.3, and Jordan Crawford and Jared Sullinger are tied for fourth with 11.3.
The Celtics have gotten extra scoring chances without giving up a shot themselves. This is due to the high number of forced turnovers. The Celtics currently rank second in the league with 136 opponent turnovers, a rate of 17 per game. Gerald Wallace leads the teams with 16 steals, followed closely by Avery Bradley with 14. Jordan Crawford and Courtney Lee have 8 each.
The Celtics are averaging 17.4 turnovers themselves but have gotten better over the past few games and need to keep trending in that direction if they want to stay competitive in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.
Brandon Bass has been their best all-around player
Coming to the team prior to the 2011-12 season to replace Glen “Big Baby’’ Davis, Brandon Bass has been a workhorse off the bench the past few seasons, and also started 39 and 69 games in 2011-12 and 2012-13. Bass averaged 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds in his first season with the Celtics, then followed that up with 8.7 ppg and 5.2 rpg last year.
Bass had started all eight games in 2013-14 and arguably has been the Celtics’ best all-around player. The 28-year-old is scoring 12.3 ppg and has had more than 16 points in four games. He had 36 points and 11 rebounds in the wins Nov. 6 and 8 against Utah and Orlando. He played just 15 minutes in the win against Miami but came back for 30 minutes in Monday’s win against Orlando.
Bass is third on the team in minutes played, total rebounds, field goals, and points. He is second in blocks and has turned the ball over at a rate of just once per game.
The wins have (mostly) come against poor teams
Keep in mind the quality of the teams the Celtics have played. The win over the Heat in Miami was certainly a good one, but the other three have come against notably weaker competition.
The Celtics’ first win came against the Jazz, who were also 0-4 and have since gone on to lose four more. In what looked to be a blowout at halftime, the Jazz made the game competitive in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Celtics by 12 and cutting the deficiti to 6 with 4:28 to play.
In the second win, at Orlando, the Celtics blew another lead and the Magic almost tied it with a 3-pointer with four seconds to play, but Arron Afflalo was a step inside the 3-point line when his shot fell.
The fourth win was a solid one against Orlando at home, but the schedule gets tougher. Five of the Celtics’ next eight games are on the road and six of their next seven are against Portland, Minnesota, Houston, San Antonio, Indiana, and Atlanta.