After a showcase victory last night over the Charlotte Hornets, the Boston Celtics are now in a four-way tie for the 8th seed with the Charlotte Hornets, the Indiana Pacers and the Brooklyn Nets. Despite a major roster overhaul and constant injuries to some of the key players on the roster, the desire to return to the playoffs continues to be the ultimate goal for this young team. As we head into the month of March, there are several key factors that are going to keep the Celtics at the 8th seed at the end of the regular season.
Part of the reason why the Celtics missed the playoffs last season was because of the heavily dependence on the jump shooting. The jump shooting still happens this season, but they have been much better on defense in recent games and will have to keep playing tough defense in the homestretch. For most of the season, the Celtics’ defensive rating has been 103.2 which is 15th in the league. For the whole month of February, their defensive rating has been improved to 99.3 which is 9th in the NBA for the short month. Not bad for just one month and that needs to carry on for the next month and a half for a successful push.
There are always conversations about the NBA mostly being a player’s league and the only way for them to improve is to simply just get on the floor and continuing to play games. A similar line of reasoning does exist with coaches too. Brad Stevens has been coaching so many different players around the NBA in not even two full seasons as the Celtics head coach. After spending last season just learning the league, the players and just the overall pace and tempo of the NBA game as opposed to the college environment he was so versed on, he entered this season much more equipped to handle the anticipated flow to the rest of the league. Stevens has also been privileged to coach the same core of players in the recent weeks and there’s more of spark within the locker room now than there was in the beginning of the season. This group is now playing with confidence and a lot more contributions from everyone on the roster and that is vital to future success. However, Stevens will be put to the test in the next few games with Golden State in town tomorrow and a road game in Cleveland on Tuesday. It will be a tough test indeed, but define the road ahead for the Celtics.
Obviously being tied for the 8th seed currently is a huge momentum boost for this young Celtics team, but looking at the month ahead for March is going to be a tough month with a lot of playoff teams on the schedule. Week 1 for March will feature three tough games against Golden State, Cleveland and New Orleans. Winning all three of those games will be huge considering it will be mostly Boston’s defense that will determine the outcome of those games. The 2nd week in March will feature three tough games including two of the teams the Celtics will face will be the current 7th seeded team in the Miami Heat and one of the other 8th seeded teams in the Indiana Pacers. The other tough game will be when Jeff Green’s Memphis Grizzlies come to town. The Celtics had faced the Grizzlies down in Memphis earlier this season and took a 117-100 loss back in November. The rest of March will featured games against San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Brooklyn, Miami (again), Charlotte, Detroit and the L.A. Clippers. To say the least, March could be successful and a train wreck at the same time.
The Celtics have all of the tools to making the final stretch of the season a very exciting one. Losing Jared Sullinger for the season was obviously the last thing that the Celtics had planned, but all it takes is just one simple mindset from the rest of the roster and that’s just to go get it done.