By: Jesse Frazier
BOSTON, Mass. – Compared to last season’s team, the 2019-20 Boston Celtics are like night and day. They are 17-5, undefeated at home, and tied for second-place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. A West Coast trip in November tested the toughness of this year’s team with close losses to Sacramento (Nov. 17), the Los Angeles Clippers (Nov. 20) and the Denver Nuggets (Nov. 22) the team is winning consistently during their pre-Christmas home-stand. Boston is off-and-running with depth, a new look, and a leap forward from young players such as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
A meeting with the Golden State Warriors lost its anticipation after injuries to Golden State’s feature pieces in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but the Celtics still showed their worth against point guard D’Angelo Russell’s depleted Warriors, defeating Golden State 105-100 in San Francisco’s newly-opened Chase Arena on Nov. 15.
The Celtics moved on to Sacramento on Nov. 17 only to lose to a young, hot-shooting Kings team led by guard Buddy Hield. A Marcus Smart floater rolled around the rim at the buzzer for Boston, snapping a 10-game winning streak to start the season. Boston quickly returned to their winning ways against the Phoenix Suns and former Celtics center Aron Baynes on Nov. 18, holding the Suns to just 85 points.
The highlight of the trip was Boston’s game against the Western Conference favorite Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 20, headed by former Celtics coach Doc Rivers, talented bench players and superstar forwards Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers are one of the NBA’s most capable defensive teams with a supporting cast of Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverly, and Maurice Harkless, eerily similar to the structure of this year’s Celtics team.
The interactions on both sides of the ball lived up to its billing as an early candidate for game of the year, though it was one Boston did not have the fortune of winning. A defensive lapse by Jayson Tatum allowed Paul George to score an open 3-pointer in overtime and re-take the lead, and Boston could not score from that point forward. Celtics guard Kemba Walker had an opportunity to close the overtime deficit with another 3-pointer, but was blocked by Leonard. This was a “good loss” if there is such a thing as it showed the league that the green can play with anyone.
The West Coast gauntlet did not stop from there, as Boston traveled next to Denver to take on the upstart Nuggets on Nov. 22. Kemba Walker went down with a frightening neck injury that appeared as if he went unconscious after colliding with Celtics forward Semi Ojeleye, and the Celtics lost another close battle while fighting exhaustion from the trip. Walker was later diagnosed with a minor head injury and neck sprain, and missed the following contest against the Kings but this time in Boston, the Celtics answered back with a 103-102 victory on Nov. 25.
With the supposed return of former Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving pushed off due to a “shoulder injury”. Fans chanted “Where is Kyrie?!” as the Celtics rolled to a 121-110 win on Nov. 27. The Nets then got their revenge on Black Friday 112-107 two days, though Boston cruised to a Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden against the lowly New York Knicks.
The Celtics returned home to defeat an impressive Miami Heat team, surviving Jimmy Butler’s 37-point game to retain the second playoff seed in the Eastern Conference on Dec 4. The Celtics stood out in their home victories over the Denver Nuggets (Dec. 6) and Cleveland Cavaliers (Dec. 9) with solid performances from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in each win.
With a set of games at home to start off December, including the Philadelphia 76ers and Detroit Pistons, the Celtics face stiff competition in their effort to defend home court. The team benefitted from hot starts by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker, while solid contributions from Daniel Theis, Grant Williams and Brad Wanamaker have helped the team remain in control when the starting unit is swapped out. The center spot has been the most interesting spot as it revolves around Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, Robert Williams, and Grant Williams. The Williams and Theis are excellent defenders, while Kanter is used for his rebounding abilities and presence in the paint. The solid, scrappy play of Marcus Smart makes Boston’s defense multi-dimensional and adaptive.
Looking ahead, the Celtics will have to keep up this great play in order to compete with the Bucks, 76ers and Raptors in the Eastern Conference in hopes of a deep playoff run. The talent, effort and chemistry this team shares is infectious, and it is likely this team is capable of high-level basketball for months to come.