After trudging through most of the first quarter of the season at a pedestrian 10-10, the Celtics acknowledged they weren’t playing up to their potential.
“Last year, teams when they came in and played the Celtics, they knew they were in for a fight,” Marcus Smart told reporters. “This year, teams can’t wait to play us and that’s a problem.”
Whether the message resonated or the Celtics simply coincidentally started playing better basketball is up for debate, but there’s no question this team has hit its stride of late.
Suddenly, after wins over the New Orleans Pelicans, Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, and Pelicans again, the Celtics are 16-10 as of Wednesday morning and sit just 4.5 games behind the top-seeded Toronto Raptors.
Granted, every team the Celtics have played during the streak is currently out of the playoffs, but Boston has still looked noticeably sharper throughout the stretch. The Celtics aren’t just beating teams, they’re crushing them.
Here are six stats to know from the six-game winning streak:
They’ve won by an average of 26 points.
This is a bit skewed because of the Bulls blowout, but in fairness, that game did happen, so it’s part of the equation here. Take it out, and the average margin is still 20 per contest.
Okay then Jaylen! ? pic.twitter.com/4fV0EJKUpY
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 9, 2018
They’ve scored at least 113 points every night, something they had only done five times in 20 games before the streak began.
“As guys have gotten more comfortable playing together, and the ball’s gone in a little bit more, you feel a little bit better about yourself,” coach Brad Stevens said.
Jayson Tatum has shot 56 percent from the floor.
Tatum has been arguably the Celtics’ most consistent player during the turnaround. He shot 7 of 9 against the Bulls on Saturday and 10 of 16 against the Pelicans on Monday.
He’s not doing anything out of his comfort zone, but he’s doing it on a more consistent level than he was to start the season. His shooting percentage is 46.6 on the year, so this has been an increase from his norm.
Tatum has also seen a spike in 3-point percentage, converting at a 46.6 percent clip, and he hasn’t missed a free throw, either.
They’re currently third in the NBA in point differential at 7.6.
Because the Celtics have been winning games by so many points, their point differential has skyrocketed during the streak.
The 7.6 mark puts them behind only the Milwaukee Bucks (9.8) and Raptors (8.1) and ahead of teams such as the Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, and Oklahoma City Thunder.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 2, 2018
The Celtics are in the middle of the pack when it comes to points per game, but they’re allowing 102.8 per contest, which is tied for second in the NBA with the Memphis Grizzlies (behind the Indiana Pacers).
A different player has led them in rebounding in all six games.
That’s the sign of a team that’s rebounding by committee, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Marcus Morris (11 vs. the Pelicans), Aron Baynes (9 vs. the Cavaliers), Gordon Hayward (9 vs. the Timberwolves), Al Horford (12 vs. the Knicks), Daniel Theis (10 vs. the Bulls), and Robert Williams (11 vs. the Pelicans) have all done their part.
They’ve out-rebounded their opponents as a whole five out of six times, compiling 50-plus boards in each of the last two games (42-40 vs. the Pelicans, 47-36 vs. the Cavaliers, 40-39 vs. the Wolves, 46-47 vs. the Knicks, 54-37 vs. the Bulls, and 51-39 vs. the Pelicans).
On the season, the Celtics are 10th overall in rebounds, (eighth in defensive, 13th in offensive).
They’ve shot 83.1 percent from the line.
The San Antonio Spurs lead the NBA with a free-throw percentage of 83.2 as of Wednesday morning, and that’s essentially what the Celtics are shooting in the last six games (84 out of 101).
A 21-for-21 performance against the Timberwolves certainly didn’t hurt, and they followed that up with a 17-for-20 outing against the Knicks.
Boston at one point made 33 consecutive free throws, marking the team’s longest such streak since 2002. Somewhere, Tommy Heinsohn smiles.
“We didn’t do a really good job of handling dribble penetration,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said after Monday’s game. “They took the ball wherever they wanted to take it. We just couldn’t keep them in front.”
Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier’s assist numbers have both gone up.
Smart finds Williams with a perfect pass for two! pic.twitter.com/E9IzAVtFRY
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 11, 2018
Part of that is because various players, such as Irving, have missed time, but both Smart and Rozier have facilitated more whether Irving has been on the floor or not of late.
Rozier’s total of six against the Pelicans was a season-high.