BOSTON (CBS) — A four-game winning streak in the NBA is usually more than a fluke. Heck, last year’s Celtics team led by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo couldn’t put together a four-game winning streak until early January. A hot stretch means something, just like the C’s winless start indicated the team had lineup issues.
The more important question to dissect though, is not that the Celtics are winning games now, but why are they winning? What’s changed since the 0-4 start? Here are a few of the main reasons.
Avery Bradley is not playing point guard anymore.
I discussed this a bit in my column last week, when Brad Stevens made the initial switch at point guard from Bradley to Jordan Crawford in the starting lineup. The results for both players since the shift couldn’t have gone much better. Crawford has been a stabilizing force in the starting five, posting 12.3 points and 5.8 assists per game since being handed the job as the team’s primary ball handler.
Kelly Olynyk reflected on Crawford’s impact in the role after Monday’s win against Orlando.
“He’s doing a great job. He’s getting everybody the ball where they can be real effective,” Olynyk said, “And even if they’re executing real well, we’re making extra passes, we’re playing as a team, and we’re not taking too many tough shots, we’re kind of making the extra pass to make open shots, and guys are knocking down shots, so I think that’s kind of why we’re shooting at a high clip right now.”
Bradley has seen his offensive game awaken as well since being moved over to his natural position at the two guard. Before the winning streak, Bradley was shooting a meager 37.7 percent from the field, while turning the ball over nearly four times per game. After the switch though, Bradley is playing with much more confidence offensively, hitting a stellar 52.4 percent of his shot attempts to average 15.8 points per game during the team’s turnaround, good for second on the team.
Bradley’s actually managed to cut his turnovers in half as well to 1.8 per game, which is indicative of a team-wide trend. With Crawford and rookie Phil Pressey handling point duties, the offense has run smoother, leading to less overall sloppiness. Turnovers have gone down from 21 per contest before the winning streak, to a much more sustainable 13.8 per game.
Gerald Wallace is providing a spark off the bench
The senior member of the Celtics’ roster was a pretty grouchy camper when a demotion to the bench came his way just four games into the season. Instead of sulking though, Wallace has embraced his new role teaming up with Jared Sullinger off the bench, giving Boston a little bit of everything as a spark plug.
In four games off the pine, Wallace has posted 4.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.5 assists in each contest. On paper, it may not seem like much, but his impact isn’t lost on Stevens.
“[Wallace has] been nothing but an absolute energizer off the bench,” Stevens said. “I think that we talked about this at the end of the day, with Jared’s ability to score off the bench, with Courtney’s ability to score off the bench and with Phil’s and Gerald’s ability to kind of change the complexion of the game when it’s not going your way, that’s pretty good stuff off the bench. Hopefully we can continue taking advantage of that.”
Unselfish play by the team
While the turnovers have gone down in Boston’s recent wins, another statistic has jumped way up: assists.
The Celtics began the season dead last in assists per game with 14.3, but that number has skyrocketed to 22.3 during Boston’s recent hot stretch. The entire roster, from Jared Sullinger all the way down to Crawford are now looking to make the extra pass and it has allowed the team to reap major dividends in their offense. The Celtics have increased their offensive scoring output by an incredible 17.3 points per game since the start of the streak.
Wallace, who spoke very harshly about the team’s selfishness over their first couple weeks of the season, spoke candidly about the changes he’s noticed yesterday in practice.
“We’re a lot better than the first games we played, but the first games were expected from guys first time playing together, new coach, new system,” Wallace continued, “I think the effort was there, [but] there was a lot more selfishness, guys not trusting each other, not understanding each other, not knowing how to play with each other in the first couple of games. But the effort was there. We just continued to play and get that trust, and it’s starting to show now.”
Can they keep it up?
The most encouraging part about all of these changes: they are sustainable. No one player is truly playing at a level they haven’t already shown during at least a portion of their NBA career. There’s no reason they can’t maintain most of these adjustments.
After tonight’s game against the Bobcats, Boston’s competition stiffens up considerably, which will challenge this group to remain consistent.
When looking at the progress this team’s made lately though, the team may be closer to a .500 team than one that was destined to tank the season away.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.
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