By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s finally safe to feel good about the Celtics again.
After a bumpy start to the season, the Celtics are asserting themselves as the powerhouse team we all thought they’d be when things were much, much warmer outside. As the temps have dropped in Boston, the C’s offense has gotten red-hot. They absolutely smoked one of the best defensive teams in the league Wednesday night, stomping the Indiana Pacers 135-108 at TD Garden.
Boston’s ball movement was off the charts once again, dishing out 32 assists on 50 made baskets. They now have at least 30 assists in each of the last five games. It has led to plenty of open looks or clear paths to the basket, and the Celtics are taking full advantage of those high percentage shots; they hit 56.8 percent of their shots in Wednesday’s blowout.
Amazing things really do happen when you share the basketball. All 13 players to see the floor scored for Boston on Wednesday, the second straight game where at least seven players finished in double digits. Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown led the charge with 22 apiece, and Jayson Tatum finished with 20 points after scoring 11 in the first quarter.
The fact that they scored a season-high in points with Kyrie Irving contributing just 12 to the cause is a true testament of their newfound love of sharing the basketball.
The huge victory does come with a pair of caveats. The Pacers were on the second night of a back-to-back, and were without big man Miles Turner. Boston took full advantage of his absence, scoring 56 points in the paint. But the Celtics led from start to finish and never took their foot off the gas, a giant confident boost for a team looking to make up ground in the Eastern Conference standings. They now sit a game behind the Philadelphia 76ers for fourth in the conference, and just one game behind the Pacers in the loss column for the three-seed.
Yes, the Celtics are looking great, but more importantly, they’re feeling great about themselves.
“You can tell our team is just feeling really good being around each other,” said Irving. “It’s totally different in terms of how we feel out there. It’s just really positive.”
“The way that we’re playing, we all understand where our shots are going to come from, the types of shots coach wants from us,” said Al Horford, who had eight points and six assists in his 18 minutes. “I feel like as a unit we’re starting to understand how coach [Brad Stevens] wants us to play.”
Their nightly offensive onslaughts have led to a steady climb up the league rankings. After spending the start of the season in the NBA’s basement, the Boston offense is up to ninth in the league with a 110.9 rating. Their 118.5 rating for the month of January is good for fourth in the league. They own the NBA’s best net rating of +11.2 since Thanksgiving, touting a 16-6 record in that span. That almost lets them off the hook for a three-game skid in that stretch.
It was during that losing streak that the Celtics held a players only meeting following a disappointing loss to the Bucks at home. Irving said there have been many turning points this season, but that one sticks out.
“We just had to build that chemistry first,” Irving said. “Getting to know one another, really put everything out there and kind of moved on from that point. At that point, playing against Milwaukee, we were not at rock bottom but we needed to addresses some (another word for stuff) so it was just good to get stuff out in the air. As grown men, guys have expectations for themselves and want to be great. It was good to hear everybody honestly speak about what they wanted for themselves and what they wanted for the team. So that made things easier.”
Boston is 7-2 since that loss to the Bucks, averaging nearly 120 points per game.
“We’re making shots and continuing to make each other better, making those plays we weren’t making earlier in the season, just trusting one another in specific positions in our offense. I feel like we’re comfortable with what we’re running,” said Irving. “Everything we talked about in the beginning of the season is translating now.”
Instead of trying to figure out what’s wrong, the Celtics are finally able to point toward what is going right. It took until the midway point of the season, but the Celtics are finally looking like the Eastern Conference contender we all thought they were.