Expert NBA Handicapping: Six Factors to Boston Celtics Success
The Boston Celtics are a truly remarkable story right now. They lost their big free agent signing mere minutes into the opening game of the season. A lot of teams would be crushed by that, and for the first two games it looked like Boston would be as well. But then they went full nuclear. They have won 16 games in a row, opened up a four-game cushion atop the conference already, and are the most exciting part of what has been a pretty great season so far. It has been amazing. But can it last? Here are six factors to consider:
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Brad Stevens: You couldn't help but be very impressed by Stevens when he was at Butler. He was working with far less than the big programs, and he came very close to winning it all. The guy was obviously a very special coach. But when he made the decision to move to the NBA - and in the fish bowl which is the Celtics, no less - I couldn't fight the feeling that it was a bad idea. Some very good college coaches have struggled to make the move. But I couldn't have been more wrong. Stevens has very quickly become one of the top coaches in the whole league - I have him behind Kerr and Popovich, and that's it. He is a wonder at in-game adjustments, and despite looking like he is 12-years-old and has absolutely nothing in common with his players he is excellent at connecting with and motivating them. He is an incredible asset for this team and a big reason to believe that this team can stay strong - not this strong, but strong.
Smoke and mirrors: As keen as I am on Stevens, there is no denying that he and the team are using some sleight of hand during this streak. The reality is that they aren't always playing great - at least not consistently. They have won with late comebacks the last three games - and many before that - and have had to rely on otherworldly performances like 47 points from Kyrie Irving last game to win. They get a lot of credit for their belief in themselves, and for finding different ways to win, but they have been winning every single coin flip so far this season, and that can't last forever. They are obviously very good, and are playing well enough to be winning a whole lot of games, but they are unquestionably well ahead of expectations.
Kyrie Irving: Irving wanted to be his own man and to get out of the shadow of LeBron James. And it certainly seems like he was right to trust his instincts. He is playing with a tremendous swagger, and he is excellent defensively on his new team. What is really striking, though, is how much he has improved defensively. He will never be a superstar on defense, but this is the best defensive team in the league, and Irving is a solid part of that. This has been a very successful trade for this team up to this point.
Young blood: With Gordon Hayward gone, the team was going to need more from both sophomore Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum than they would otherwise have. They have both been very much up to the challenge. Brown is second in scoring behind Irving, and Tatum is fourth - and both can get better.
Al Horford: Irving is the face of the team right now, but if there was going to be one MVP on this team it really should be Horford. He has gone through a total renaissance. He's scoring 14.2 points per game, but that's just a bonus. On defense he has been profoundly good. He is driving everything for this team defensively and providing huge leadership on that front - while smothering the opposing team.
Schedule: The streak is going to end at some point but maybe not anytime soon. Their next two are against Miami and Orlando - two very winnable games. Indiana, Detroit and Philadelphia are next, and while all three are better than the Florida teams they are still manageable if the Celtics play at their best. Then Phoenix is a gift, Milwaukee is tough but underachieving right now, and Dallas is really bad. This team could go to 24 wins with not too much challenge if they keep playing like they are right now.
Betting performance: Not surprisingly, the Celtics have been a joy to bet on this year. They are a stellar 15-2-1 ATS and have gone "under" in 11 of 18 games. There have been plenty of ways to make good money on this team, and you haven't had to think too hard so far to do so.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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