Are we having fun yet?
Yes. The answer is yes.
OK, we’re only four games into the season. It’s important to not get too ahead of ourselves here, and a lot can and will change over an 82-game season.
But because it’s so early on, we’re all still making comparisons to last year’s team – and if Wednesday night’s comeback win over the Bucks is any indication of this year’s team, they’re a lot different than they were one season ago. And that’s not just a good thing, but a great thing.
It’s safe to say that if last year’s Kyrie Irving-Celtics team went down by 19 points to the Bucks, there wouldn’t be so much as a whimper before the C’s go quietly into the night. But on Wednesday night, a 19-point first-half deficit was completely erased in the third quarter before the C’s went on to win by 11, 116-105.
Whether it was Marcus Smart leading the comeback with his energy in the third quarter, or the three-headed scoring punch of Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Gordon Hayward, the C’s showed everybody what they’re capable of when they’re clicking – and when they’re outworking the opponent.
Through four games, here’s one Big Up and Big Down as the C’s prepare for the Knicks on Friday night.
Big UP: Gordon Hayward… back?
There are many “good” teams in the NBA that are projected to be good due to the knowns. The Celtics, though, had more unknowns going into this season. Would Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown make the leap? Would Kemba Walker be able to slide in? Would Gordon Hayward be, well, Gordon Hayward ever again? And that last question was probably the biggest unknown of all. With Year 1 being wiped out, and Year 2 a disappointment, much of the C’s success hinged on the C’s getting the player they signed two offseasons ago – or at least close. And through four games (yes, it’s a small sample size), it looks like Hayward is certainly going to outperform last year. He’s averaging 17.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists – all above his career averages. But the most important stat for me is… minutes per game. Hayward is averaging 34.3 mpg through four games – that’s right around where he was during his last four seasons in Utah. He’d be up to 35 mpg if the C’s didn’t go up 25 late in the fourth quarter against the Knicks last week. Last year through the team’s first four games, Hayward averaged 24.6mpg in three games, as he was given one of the four games off to rest his ankle. He only amassed 30 mpg in 13 games last season. It’s obvious that Hayward is in a much better place going into this season, and that’s translating on the court.
Big DOWN: “Big” problem?
So far, the Celtics have started three different players at the center spot: Enes Kanter, Robert Williams III, and Daniel Theis (twice). Rookies Vincent Poirier and Tacko Fall round out that position. Not exactly a wrecking ball crew there. As you can see, the C’s went into this season thin at center, and Kanter already missing three of the first four games with a bruised left knee is not ideal. With the Celtics 3-1 to start the year, and a rebound rate of 78.5 (13th in the NBA) you can’t say that the position is killing them. But we saw in Game 1 against the Sixers what a bigger team can do against the C’s. Sure, the Sixers are seen as the cream of the crop in the East, but if the Celtics’ goal is to compete with them, they probably need to address that position at some point this season, perhaps before the trade deadline. Theis is not the answer in a role that large, and Williams just might not be there yet. You’re now asking the forwards (and guards) to do even more. Rookie Grant Williams has done a comendable job filling in where needed. But they are one or two injuries short of a full on Tacko-Mania. That’s fine on team with no expectations (and I love Tacko just as much as the next guy), but it’s clear this team is talented enough to make some serious noise and it would be a shame if opponents were able to target one weakness to prevent that. Or, they can stick Marcus Smart there…