What you need to know about the Celtics’ 15-game winning streak

The Celtics even made Charles Barkley break a promise.

Jayson Tatum celebrates after dunking vs. the Hawks.
Jayson Tatum celebrates after dunking vs. the Hawks. –Mandatory Credit: Photo by Erik S. Lesser/EPA-EFE/REX

By winning in Atlanta on Saturday night, the Celtics had officially gone an entire month without losing. Following the 108-100 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the home opener at TD Garden on Oct. 18, the Celtics have responded with a 15-game winning streak.

It’s been made even more impressive by the continued absence of Gordon Hayward due to his opening night injury on Oct. 17. While Brad Stevens insists the Celtics need to play better for the win streak to be deemed “valid,” Boston remains an NBA-best 15-2.

Here’s a quick look at some of the notable aspects of the Celtics’ dramatic winning streak:

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Where it stacks up in Celtics history: At 15 straight wins, the 2017-2018 Celtics are in rarified air. Only four other winning streaks in team history have outstripped the current total of 15 in a row. The longest, which happened between Nov. and Dec. 2008, was 19 straight. That year, Boston jumped out to an amazing 27-2 start.

The success has been predicated on defense: The foundation of the Celtics’ run has a familiar ring in the Brad Stevens era. Defense, so often a catalyst for success in the last few seasons, is once again a Celtics strength.

According to NBA advanced stats, the Celtics’ defensive rating is the best in the league. Points have flowed from turnovers, as happened against the Warriors:

Correspondingly, the offense hasn’t actually been that good: While the defense has locked down even the most prolific of opponents, the offense has struggled at times. Given the absence of Hayward, a degree of difficulty was to be expected.

While the defense is first in the league, the offense (per NBA offensive rating) is ranked 21st out of 30 teams.

Marcus Smart has been the worst shooter in the NBA, but important anyway: For players taking at least 10 shots a game, Marcus Smart has averaged the lowest field goal percentage in the league (27.3 percent).

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However, as CBS Sports’ Matt Moore pointed out, Smart has nonetheless been vital for the Celtics’ run. For a variety of reasons, the Celtics are statistically more effective when Smart is on the floor than when he’s not.

Not beating themselves: Despite not playing with too much dynamism on offense, the Celtics have been effective in avoiding too many mistakes. One aspect of this has been in the team’s turnover rate. At 13.5, it’s the third lowest in the NBA.

Sharing the scoring: The offseason addition of Kyrie Irving could have potentially led the Celtics to funnel scoring through their talented guard. Instead, Stevens’ team has spread out the offense.

While Irving has paced the Celtics in scoring in his fair share of games, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Aron Baynes, Jayson Tatum, and even Shane Larkin have all contributed team-leading performances during the winning streak.

Charles Barkley was not on board: During halftime of the Celtics’ improbable comeback against the Warriors on Nov. 16, NBA legend and TNT analyst Charles Barkley doubted the team’s capability.

“They’re not going to hold the Golden State Warriors to 94 points,” said Barkley. “I can promise you that.”

Barkley was technically correct. The Celtics held the Warriors to 88 points, not 94. The Celtics took the comment in stride:

Comebacks have been a regular occurrence: As the Celtics proved in the case of Barkley, it’s not wise to write them off even when the opposition appears to have an insurmountable lead.

On three separate occasions, the Celtics have rallied from deficits of 17 points or more. Two of those came against the Warriors and Thunder. The other came against the Hornets when Irving exited with a fractured face. Finding themselves in early trouble against the Hawks, Stevens’ team pulled themselves out from under a 15-point first quarter margin to win, 110-99.

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Kevin Durant was impressed with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum: After the Celtics’ comeback win against the Warriors, one of the NBA’s heads of state weighed in on Boston’s dynamic duo.

“Jaylen Brown has taken the next step,” said Durant. “He’s exactly where he needs to be in his second year in the league. And Tatum’s another guy who’s playing efficient basketball. For a rookie, that’s kind of unheard of.”

Jaylen Brown has stepped into larger role, even while dealing with tragedy: After playing 17.2 minutes-per-game last season (averaging 6.6 points), Brown has become one of Boston’s central contributors in his second NBA season.

Sadly, one of his (and the Celtics’) best performances of the season came immediately after Brown got news that one of his best friends from high school had died.

Kyrie Irving has been defined more by his defense than his highly touted offense: Clearly, Irving is one of the most dynamic scorers in the NBA. However, his early success in Boston has been a hard fought pursuit on the defensive end. Irving’s defensive rating has improved drastically from a season ago in Cleveland.

The mask only made a temporary departure: Forced to wear a mask for medical reasons (after fracturing his face in early Nov.), Irving ditched it for the second half of the comeback against the Warriors. Of course, the danger to his recovery from injury outweighed Irving’s short term comfortability:

Against the Hawks on Saturday, the mask returned.

Highlights: Here’s a look at some of the best plays from over the course of the winning streak: