Brad Stevens can coach. Media “experts” on the radio around Boston like to toss him into the “unproven” category since he has yet to win a playoff series. Fair enough, I suppose, and if the Cs exit early this May then I will join the chorus of skeptics. However, it’s quite difficult to dispute that over his tenure the Celts have made gradual and methodical improvements in a deliberate and grinding, workmanlike manner. Every year the team is better than it was the year before under Stevens. Stevens put many, many millions of dollars into Evan Turner’s pocket and turned Isaiah Thomas into an offensive superstar thus stamping himself as a Coach more than capable of developing those supposedly uncoachable, multi-millionaire NBA egos. This grinding, gradual improvement and player development may also be exactly what is happening within this current season.
Two months ago the Celts were playing like a fringe playoff team almost as often as they were playing well.The defense stunk and the rebounding was terrible. The trade deadline passed and the team stood pat. Since that time the team came back down to earth after a red hot streak, went into a slump, and subsequently rebounded from that slump and for the most part has played better since. Let’s see what the team stats tell us where The Green stands with 71 down and 11 to go before the playoffs. Here are the rankings for the team within the NBA:
Offensive Rating – 8th
Offensive Efficiency – 9th
% of FG Assisted – 2nd
2nd Half Points/Game – 3rd
4th Qtr Points/Game – 1st
Defensive Rating – 13th
Defensive Efficiency – 12th
Defensive Rebounding % – 26th
What we have seen over the course of the year is the same type of methodical improvement Stevens has generated over the course of his career in Boston. The Celtics were at the bottom of the NBA literally in Defensive Rebounding %. They aren’t great at it now but the return of Bradley and a better overall approach and effort has improved the team’s rebounding. The offensive numbers have actually slipped ever so slightly. However, the team still plays strongly in the second half almost every night, and the % of FGs Assisted and Offensive Efficiency numbers tell you they are among the best in ball movement and offensive output. Defensively the Celtics are still a tad above the middle of the pack, but the critical point is that these numbers have improved over the course of the season. Recent wins over Golden State, Cleveland, and Washington show how they are capable of cranking it up when needed as a unit.
In addition to Coach Stevens and his staff crafting a better overall team as the season progressed, the Cs are also benefiting substantially from the return of Avery Bradley and a resurgent Al Horford. Horford has gone from a passive player happy to not fill THE top role to an aggressive and energetic force that looks like he is really enjoying himself on the court. While Horford seems to have found his groove and is responding with aggression to the coach feeding him the ball more on offense, Avery Bradley is providing excellent on the ball defense as usual and flaunting that his 41% 3PT% is definitely not a fluke.
Perhaps things are indeed lining up at the right time. Will this be enough to capture the Eastern Conference? As explained here there are ZERO excuses to not at least secure the #2 seed if not the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. It’s no longer about Coach Stevens and his cute and spunky group of overachievers. Barring serious injury roadblocks this team should make some serious noise in May and June.