The Celtics are playing their best basketball of the season in the last three weeks, winning 10 of 12 overall in the midst of a home-heavy stretch of the schedule.
The hot streak has allowed Boston to put some pressure on the Toronto Raptors for the second seed in the Eastern Conference, but Brad Stevens knows that his team must still improve defensively to get over that hump.
“We’ve been good at times in games but not as good as we need to be ultimately,” Stevens said Monday. “The New Orleans game was a good microcosm of who we’ve been: Thirty points plus first quarter, great second and third quarter, and then a 30 point plus fourth quarter. Not necessarily in that order but we’re guarding at a high level about half the time. And we’re going to have to be a lot better than that if we want to be a good team.”
With tough tests upcoming against a few of the league’s best offenses in the coming weeks, the Celtics will need to tighten things up to maintain their winning ways.
15. Demetrius Jackson — The point guard’s regular presence in Maine has paid off in the win column. The Red Claws are riding a season-high five-game winning streak with Jackson in the lineup up north.
14. Jordan Mickey — It’s been over a month now that Mickey has been glued to the bench, dating back to Dec. 7.
13. James Young — An offday workout last week resulted in a sprained ankle for the swingman. The 21-year-old is expected to miss at least another week according to Brad Stevens.
12. Tyler Zeller — A sinus infection that has sidelined the center for the past week is still lingering. “Tyler is still dealing with a lot of the symptoms that he’s had, so he’s actually doing some more testing and getting a few more opinions,” Stevens explained at practice Monday. Zeller has not played since Dec. 29.
11. Gerald Green — The senior member of the Celtics has remained hot in the month of January, pushing his 3-point shooting mark to 40% on the season. The problem? He still has the worst defensive rating out of any rotation member (114.1) when he’s on the court.
10. Terry Rozier — The Louisville product has returned to the lineup as a more cautious offensive player since being benched for three games in the last week of December. Since being given a second look, Rozier has attempted just five shots in 45 minutes of action, a sharp dropoff from his season average of 5.5 shots in 17 minutes per game.
9. Jaylen Brown — Getting consistent minutes is a challenging proposition for the 20-year-old rookie and it’s easy to see why if you dive deeper into the numbers. Boston’s offense continues to nose dive with the small forward on the floor, as the Celtics scored 17 more points per 100 possessions this past week when Brown was on the pine.
8. Kelly Olynyk — The one bright spot for Olynyk during an underwhelming start to the year? He’s posting a career-high assist rate of 14.5 percent, a number that is on the rise after dishing out 14 assists in three games last week.
7. Jonas Jerebko — The Swede isn’t getting a chance to shoot much, but he’s still getting capitalizing on his limited opportunities. He’s hitting 50 percent of his shots from beyond the arc in his last five games.
6. Amir Johnson — Brad Stevens is keeping the veteran big man on the bench for the majority of most games but that’s a strategy he might want to consider given Johnson’s latest resurgence on both ends. His net rating of +21.8 topped the entire Celtic roster in the past week.
5. Jae Crowder — With a 33% 3-point shooting mark in his career, no one considered Crowder an elite shooter heading into the 2016-17 season. An offseason of working on his outside shot is paying off in a big way however as the swingman ranks 14th overall in the NBA beyond the arc by shooting 42.3 percent from deep. That puts him ahead of All-Stars such as Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
4. Avery Bradley — A strained Achilles will keep Bradley sidelined during the start of this week, but the ailment is not expected to keep him out for long. “Wednesday [vs. the Wizards] is a possibility,” Brad Stevens said at practice Monday. “He felt a lot better after treatment…[Trainer] Ed Lacerte said in the first time we looked at it that it’s most likely five to seven days after the injury. So it was Friday, so fifth day would be Wednesday.”
3. Al Horford — There’s more than another breakout year by Isaiah Thomas at the forefront of Boston’s offensive gains. The team can thank Al Horford’s playmaking for helping catapult them into a top-7 NBA offense. Horford has dished out eight or more assists in a game five times already this season, putting him second overall (5.0 apg) on the team in that category.
2. Marcus Smart — Perimeter shooting has been an uphill battle for most of Marcus Smart’s career, but he showed some encouraging signs of progress with his jumper over the last couple weeks. He’s shooting 48.2 percent (14-of-29) from 3-point range in his last eight games, highlighted by a season-high 22 points in a win over the Pelicans on Saturday.
1. Isaiah Thomas — The MVP chants for Thomas keep popping up at the TD Garden over the past two weeks and it’s not hard to understand why. Here’s a look at the numbers he’s posted since returning from a groin injury in mid-December.
Isaiah Thomas since returning from groin injury (12 games):
43.6% 3-pt (8.4 attempts/G)
94.4% FT (8.9 attempts/G)
— Brian Robb (@CelticsHub) January 8, 2017