The trend of national NBA writers taking note of the 2021-22 NBA season‘s second-half transformation of the Boston Celtics from a team stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity to a legitimate contender continues to grow with every Celtics win.
Their top-rated defense has them beating teams at home and on the road by a serious margin, a clear sign historically of a dangerous playoff team capable of winning it all. And over at Sports Illustrated, staff writer Rohan Nadkarni is among the new believers in the Celtics’ smothering defensive capabilities, which he wrote on at length in a new article positioning Boston as his second-ranked Eastern Conference contender.
“Since Jan. 1 — as the big omicron COVID-19 variant wave that hit the NBA started to recede — the Celtics are first in defense (by a significant margin), eighth in offense and first in net rating,” begins Nadkarni.
“The five-man group of Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Rob Williams and Al Horford is by far the NBA’s best lineup this season,” he observes.
“That fivesome has a 24.0 net rating in 404 minutes together, the highest of any group that’s played at least 200 minutes. (For context: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green posted a 22.4 net in 2017.) Meanwhile, Derrick White and Grant Williams are incredibly solid players to bring off the bench, allowing the Celtics to match size when they want to.”
“The fears for Boston will be shooting, as well as spots eight and nine in the rotation,” relates Nadkarni.
“Can they survive Payton Pritchard and possible Daniel Theis minutes in the playoffs?” he ponders, regarding Boston’s admittedly thin bench rotation.
“Who will step up outside of Tatum in close games, in which the Cs have had some issues this year?”
“For me, their defense is so elite, so suffocating, Boston can overcome offensive issues in a way most teams can’t,” replies the SI analyst to his own rhetorical question.
“Seriously, the Celtics top-seven players offer no targets for opponents. Beyond that, Tatum has shown in the past he can go bucket for bucket with historically great offensive players. While it’s not always been efficient, you can do worse than Tatum attacking switches down the stretch of a fourth quarter.”
“Combine all of that with a core that’s built chemistry through years of playoff runs, and I’m pretty high on the Celtics,” Nadkarni finishes.
After the stretch of games Boston has put together since the arrival of the new year, we would be lying if we said we did not feel the same.
It may be a cliche to say defense wins championships, but with the way the Celtics have been ragdolling opponents, it’s getting harder to deny that Banner 18 may very well be in their reach in 2022.
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