After sweeping the Nets of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the first round, they are set to contend for the fourth round of their series against Milwaukee. However, the Celtics have come a long way this season.
At the end of January, when they fell below 50% victory after a humiliating loss to the Blazers already deprived of Damian Lillard, the Celtics had the click.
“I don’t think anyone expected it to take off like this”smiles Brad Stevens, current president and former coach of the C’s.
“We all learned to establish our identity not only in the League, but also the model that we want for the Celtics”
28 wins for 7 losses, started a steamroller. Since January 23, and this resounding victory in Washington (116-87) behind Jayson Tatum’s 51 points, the Celtics are the best offense (120.2 points in 100 possessions) and the best defense (104.8 in 100 possessions). possessions) of the league.
“After that game, we had this mentality, this mood and this sense of urgency and you could feel that there was something born,” explains Marcus Smart on ESPN. “Once we were well on our way, everything started to turn easily. »
Deprived of several players due to injuries, Al Horford in particular at the beginning of the season, and then Robert Williams and Marcus Smart due to various injuries, the Celtics were nonetheless able to accumulate an impressive dynamic behind their defensive block and a perfectly orchestrated aggressiveness by Smart. . , but also Horford and Williams.
“We have a lot of very good players in the team and it was just a matter of figuring out how to play together.” adds Grant Williams. “Same with Ime, it’s his first year as head coach. We all learned to establish our identity not only in the league, but also the model that we want for the Celtics. We have progressed, we know exactly what we want and who we are. »
“Two players combined in one”
The Celtics haven’t made many roster changes this season, and even the past two seasons. However, they went for Derrick White from the Spurs side in February. As a good disciple of Spurs, Ime Udoka knew the value and quality of the player. His arrival during the season was anything but a surprise. For Ime Udoka, Derrick White is both Josh Richardson, sent to the Spurs, and Dennis Schröder, lost in Houston, both of his predecessors.
“If we could have chosen the guy who is the perfect complement to our group, it is him. He’s better offensively than J-Rich and a much better defender than Dennis, so we found those two players combined into one. »
With Derrick White, plus Grant Williams and second-year point guard Payton Pritchard, the Celtics have built an eight-man rotation behind the beefy big five of Smart, Brown, Tatum, Horford and Robert Williams III. Their defense is suffocating with big sizes and a real physical impact in the long run (cf. Kevin Durant or currently Giannis Antetokounmpo, at 18/52 in the first two games).
With 27 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists on average, Jayson Tatum is one of the main reasons for the end of the season as a hit for the C’s. Above all, he raised the level of his game in a field where he had to progress to move to a new direction: the pass.
“The stats are amazing when you use him as a ball carrier in creation. When you see his profile, with his size, his vision of the game and all that, it’s obvious. »
His average had already gone up considerably in the second half of the season, but Jayson Tatum is bringing it back in the playoffs. With 25 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds, he became the best delivery man on his team, just ahead of Marcus Smart also with 6. The problem is that he loses 4 balloons at the same time…
“It’s like Manu in the Spurs”
Another important factor for the rest of the operations in Boston will be the form of Marcus Smart, who recently missed a game with a sore quadriceps. The new best defender of the year has also grown under the leadership of Ime Udoka. Here again, there is a thread that inevitably leads back to Fort Alamo…
“Marcus is going to make some really crazy passes sometimes, and he comes up to me and says, ‘It’s my fault! », Ime Udoka smiles, mimicking Marcus Smart by raising his arm in apology. “It’s like Manu in the Spurs [avec Pop]. You have to let him do it and live with the madness of him. What do we trust in him? »
Successfully moved from the bench to the front office, Brad Stevens fully appreciates this sudden promotion. But he also knows that whatever happens in their playoffs, the franchise is moving in the right direction with Ime Udoka and this workforce, a smart mix of experience and youth. Attack and defense.
“I hope that everyone really benefits from being able to fight together because we have a group that is going in the same direction: no drama. I know how fragile it can be. But I think that, in the big games, we will be difficult to win. »
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