This was the kind of game most expected would dominate the Celtics’ narrative this season: Kyrie Irving goes off just enough to help Brad Stevens’ team hang on.
But this 110-107 win over the Hawks Monday night wasn’t representative of what we’re dealing with when it comes to this team. The Celtics are the NBA’s best defensive team, among the top rebounding clubs and, most notably, the owners of a nine-game win streak. Add in the capability to use the firepower of a few — such as Irving (35 points), Jayson Tatum (21) and Al Horford (15) — and you have something nobody in the Eastern Conference can currently come close to. (For a complete recap, click here.)
The Celtics are not only the only team in the NBA with fewer than three losses, but they can now officially be classified as the team to beat in their conference.
This wasn’t only because the C’s beat an Atlanta team that just came off a win over Cleveland, or due to the recent road victories against the likes of Oklahoma City and Orlando. This is in large part because of what the Celtics have become, and what the rest of the East are not.
Take a look at NBA.com’s most recent power rankings and such a notion would seem justified. The list has the Celtics sitting at No. 2, only behind Golden State. The closest Eastern Conference competitors are Detroit (5), Washington (9), Toronto (10), and Orlando (13). Should any of those teams scare the C’s? Not in their current standing. Milwaukee should ultimately be up there, but we are reminded that the Celtics just beat the Bucks on their own court during this recent run.
And what about the team that will be looming no matter what the early-season record, the Cavaliers? Fair question.
But here’s the thing about this edition of Cleveland: They can’t do what the Celtics can, namely stop people from scoring. And the return of Isaiah Thomas obviously isn’t going to solve that. In this department, the Cavs are the absolute worst.
The naysayers would suggest the Celtics should be bracing for a downturn due to the reliance on a rookie in Tatum and second-year guard Jaylen Brown. The NBA season is a long one, and if those guys show any sign of wearing down the conversation will change in a hurry.
But the answer to those kind of concerns would be that Stevens has enough options to reel back the youngsters when need be. He did it with Irving Sunday night (27 minutes), and might be able to pick his spots if the likes of Terry Rozier, Semi Ojeleye (who played another effective 16 minutes) and Daniel Theis continue to emerge. And then there is whatever help can still be siphoned from using that $8.4 million disabled player exemption somewhere down the line.
It’s admittedly early, but it’s time to understand what is unfolding in this Eastern Conference. And that’s a reality that makes things look pretty darn good for these Celtics.
Full article @ Celtics 110, Hawks 107: Who should they fear in Eastern Conference? Nobody
Source: GreenStreet Blog