Friday night’s game in Boston against the Charlotte Hornets had all the markings of a schedule loss. The Celtics had won ten straight after starting the season 0-2 and losing Gordon Hayward for the year. Last night they were without Al Horford, who missed his second consecutive game with a concussion. In the game, Kyrie Irving took an elbow to the face and entered the concussion protocol.
Without their three highest paid stars, coming off an impressive streak, and facing a talented Hornets team, nobody would have blamed the Celtics for packing it in, cutting their losses, and moving on. But this Celtics team is more interested in solutions than excuses. The kids, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the young veterans, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier, and journeyman newcomer Shane Larkin led the comeback and extended the streak to 11. Maybe they are just that good.
It is entirely possible that Brad Stevens could clinch the Coach of the Year in the minds of the voters before the end of the month. Stevens went into the year dealing with a fundamentally different roster than the one he took to the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago, has dealt with high profile injuries and constantly shuffling lineups, and the Celtics just keep on winning. The Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins have all won titles in their respective sports since the last time the Celtics were in the Finals, but Stevens has a high approval rating than any coach in Boston not named Bill Belichick. Right now, he is proving why.
The Celtics right now are winning the games they should win, but also the ones they should not. The win over the Los Angeles Lakers this week was ugly–Jayson Tatum left the game with an ankle injury, and Horford was ruled out with a concussion–but they made it work with the players they had. While Tatum bounced back for Friday night’s game against Charlotte, Horford was still out, and after Kyrie went out, the Celtics trailed by as many as 18 before coming back and winning. Stevens has a roster of kids that are showing up every night, and when fully healthy, is the most talented roster he has ever coached, even without Hayward in the equation. That combination of talent and effort can go a long way in the regular season, and they have the league’s best record to show for it.
When I wrote about how the Celtics were making the most of their injury adjusted expectations a couple weeks ago, that was before they beat the San Antonio Spurs for the first time in the Brad Stevens Era, before they came back against the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road, and before they started winning games even without the other members of their New New Big Three (we seriously need a better nickname for Kyrie, Hayward, and Horford, but then again, they need to play a full game together before it really matters). It is starting to get silly. I am not used to having this positive an outlook on the Celtics, but it has been a fun ride, and I am excited to see where it goes. This team is playing with house money, and the best is yet to come.