The Boston Celtics just keep on winning. Their 15-2 record matches their best start to the season in franchise history, which is especially amazing considering that the first quarter of the season opener was among the worst starts to a season a team could have.
When Gordon Hayward went down, the Celtics went from having title aspirations to being a high level education for their young lottery picks that will leave us wondering what might have been. But in the month since, they have just won, and won, and won, including Thursday night’s comeback against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. I do not entirely understand it, but I love it.
This incredible start is a testament to the excellent coaching of Brad Stevens and his staff, getting a mostly new roster to play together this well this early. Before the season started, I thought the Celtics would be good, but I fully expected for there to be growing pains as Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, and Gordon Hayward learned to play together. I preached caution because, while it’s true the 2007-08 Celtics clicked right away, the best case scenario was the slow start experienced by the 2010-11 Miami Heat. They do not even have Hayward, and Horford and Irving have both missed games in this stretch, but the wins keep on coming.
The players deserve as much credit as the coaches. It is not uncommon in the NBA–or the NFL, NHL, or MLB for that matter–for teams to check out on a night in the regular season when they just do not have it. But there has been no quit in these Celtics when their shots are not falling. This streak contains multipke double-digit comebacks, and the defense has kept them in games they did not deserve to be in.
In the past year, Danny Ainge has made a great case for a lifetime tenure as the Celtics GM. Ainge has been running the Celtics since 2003 and has now overseen two rebuilds. His job security has allowed him to take the long view, not constantly making moves to keep his job for a couple more years. It also gives him the ability to make high-risk/high-reward moves when he wants to. Just look at what he did this summer:
Ainge shocked the basketball world when the Celtics won the draft lottery and after bringing in consensus top draft prospect Markelle Fultz for a workout, he turned around and traded the pick to the divion rival Philadelphia 76ers for the third pick and a future protected pick. As it happened, I was reminded of similar trade Red Auerbach made 36 years ago. In 1980, the Celtics traded the top pick to Golden State (back when the Warriors were still a punchline and not the best team in basketball), and the Dubs used the pick to select Joe Barry Carroll. Carroll earned the nickname “Joe Barely Cares” in the NBA, Red took Kevin McHale, the player he would have taken with the first pick, at four. While it is unfair to call Fultz this generation’s Joe Barely Cares, Danny Ainge got the player he wanted, Jayson Tatum, at three.
When I heard the Celtics were trade Isaiah Thomas (and Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Brooklyn’s 2018 first round pick), I couldn’t write about it for a week and a half because of my admitted emotional attachment to Isaiah. After all Thomas went through in Boston, and after all the Celtics accomplished last season, I would have been satisfied with signing Hayward and trying to beat Cleveland with the team they had. As it turns out, this is the exact kind of move I could never make as an NBA executive. I am not sure how many other GMs make that trade. But Isaiah still has not played for the Cavs, and Kyrie has been a revelation in Boston. If I were running the Celtics, they could be without Isaiah or Hayward right now, and toiling in mediocrity. At some point things will take a turn again, I trust Danny Ainge to find a way to fix it.
I am not used to being this positive, but I really like it. This is the most fun I have had as a basketball fan in ten years. This is amazing.