Celtics 96, Heat 90: This team is officially better than last season (so far)

Celtics 96, Heat 90: This team is officially better than last season (so far)

The Celtics are better this season.

Nobody is proclaiming that Brad Stevens’ team is better than Cleveland, or that it’s a lock that the Celtics are destined for the Eastern Conference finals. But what we have learned through six games is that this edition of the C’s is a more complete group that what was witnessed a season ago.

We have no idea if these Celtics are ready to show the heart and resilience that the 2016-17 team exhibited. Players like Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko and Gerald Green somehow offered a serviceable concoction, with Isaiah Thomas, of course, representing the stirrer of the stew. It was a flawed team, but it worked pretty darn well.

This group, however, is proving to be next-level, at least when it comes to actual talent.

While the lack of ball movement elicited postgame ire from Tommy Heinsohn, the Celtics’ 96-90 win over the Heat in Miami offered more proof that — even without Gordon Hayward — this is a really talented team. (For a complete recap of the Celtics win, click here.)

Sure, the equation really is driven by the one go-to guy. That’s the case with almost every team, with Kyrie Irving proving it once again for these Celtics. Against the Heat, Irving sealed the deal with a Thomas-esque fourth quarter on the way to his 24-point night. 

Still, it’s much more than Irving with these guys.

Jayson Tatum is emerging into the answer to Hayward’s absence not everyone was convinced was coming. After his 20-point performance against Miami, the rookie is averaging 15.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 50.9 percent from the field. It’s not quite the 21 points per contest the C’s prize free agent scored with Utah last year, but it’s close enough considering what else the Stevens’ club has going for them.

Heck, with Irving on the bench to begin the fourth quarter it was Tatum who was getting the Paul Pierce-esque isolation calls from his coach.

The Celtics have uncovered three legitimate options who can create offense outside of Irving thanks to the emergence of Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. And even the better-conditioned Marcus Smart is starting to show more offensive acumen, this time netting 16 points. And as for Average Al Horford, has been just above-average enough to offer his own unique all-around complement. You can also throw Shane Larkin into the mix for the kind of tempo-pusher last season’s team couldn’t boast when Thomas wasn’t on the floor.

But it’s not just the diversity of the offense that should be better.

Stevens has some unique defensive options in rookies Jabari Bird, Daniel Theis and Semi Ojeleye. And, as Stevens went out of his way to point out after the win, it is Aron Baynes who might be one of the most under-the-radar difference-makers of the group. Against the Heat, Baynes doubled his blocked shot total for the season, notching four. Yet even without the blocks, Baynes has proven to be the rim-protector last season’s squad was so obviously missing.

“Baynes was one of the best in [NBA> last year at defending the rim, without blocking a ton of shots,” Stevens told reporters after the win. “Made a huge difference”

And, to top it off, the Celtics once again won the rebounding battle, grabbing one more than Miami. As colleague John Tomase pointed out, this has been a pretty drastic about-face on the glass, with the C’s coming into Saturday night as the fifth-best defensive rebounding team in the NBA. 

Who knows who this whole thing is going to unfold, but at least we know this is trending toward becoming the kind of complete team Stevens could only dream of at this time last year. That, and four straight wins, aren’t bad places to start.



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Source: GreenStreet Blog

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