Image via Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Since heading to the west coast, the Celtics have been on fire. After all the regular season woes, after all the drama, after all the setbacks, it seems as if this Celtics team has finally found their stride.
A couple of factors have attributed to the Celtics success as of late, with the main one appearing to be Kyrie Irving. According to multiple teammates of his, Kyrie has been the leader of everything positive since the team stepped on the plane heading to the Bay Area. His energy level has been noticeably higher, he’s hustling around the floor, he’s facilitating for everyone on the court, and he’s not floating, which he has been known to do. Every minute Kyrie is on the floor he’s attacking and it all started with that plane ride. Kyrie even said it himself, after the Celtics 33 point win over the Golden State Warriors, stating, “That long plane ride helped us out. I’ll just say that.” Al Horford elaborated on that quote a couple days later saying, “Kyrie was instrumental because he was the one that initiated everything as far as being like, ‘Hey, let’s have conversations, let’s play cards, let’s do this, let’s do that’ on this plane ride.”
Looking at this through my eyes, this plane ride could be the turning point of the Celtics season, this plane ride could, in fact, be legendary. Imagine years from now we’re still talking about this plane ride. “Remember when the Celtics came together on that plane ride? Yah, they went on to win the Finals that year. What an awesome story.” I may be overreacting, anyway back to Kyrie, for someone who is supposedly miserable in his situation (according to Charles Barkley) and not fit to be a leader he seems to be very engaged with his team, as well as engaged with trying to solve the problems of a very talented squad. Things haven’t gone quite as planned for the Celtics this season, but there’s still a lot of time for them to right the ship, and if Kyrie’s latest actions, along with the positive plane ride, indicate anything, this Celtics team will finally face in the right direction.
Moving forward to someone who has also turned their play around since heading west, it’s Gordon Hayward. Gordon Hayward has shown flashes of the “Utah Gordon” all year, yet is now starting to show it more on a nightly bases. In the last 3 games, Hayward is putting up a solid stat line of 19ppg, 4rpg, 3.7apg, and 1spg on a phenomenal 70.6% shooting from the field and 41.7% shooting from 3, all of which would be season highs, excluding rebounding. To me, and most viewers out there, he looks more confident in his overall game. Gordon doesn’t look tentative, he doesn’t look passive. He’s aggressive in trying to find his shot, he’s aggressive when the ball is in his hands, and he’s impacted games on the defensive end of the floor, deflecting passes, cutting off passing lanes, and playing great on-ball defense. An aggressive Gordon Hayward is the good Gordon Hayward, as we saw in Oakland, where he dropped a 30 piece on the Warriors, and in Sacramento, where he hit the game-winning shot to sink the Kings. Without Gordon Hayward’s recent play, we’d still be talking about the Celtics struggles and how they can fix things. Boston is going to need Hayward to be on his A game come playoff time, and personally, I think he will step up his game even more when the lights turn bright. If Hayward’s playing at an All-Star level, this Celtics team is unbeatable. This recent stretch is just a small sample size of what’s to come from Gordon Hayward and that’s scary for foe eastern conference opponents out there.
When looking at the Celtics all season, what’s the one thing that’s stood out to most people? The lack of chemistry. It’s been present all year long. It’s been reported multiple times, guys don’t hate each other but rather mind their own business, they don’t engage with each other. We’ve seen this. Guys aren’t really getting up to high five each other on the bench, everyone’s kind of low key, no one gets up to yell, and there’s just no energy. However, all of that has changed. Just from watching the bench these past 3 games, you can tell guys are having fun again. They’re celebrating after every play, high fiving each other, laughing on the bench, cracking jokes, the energy is finally back and it’s spread to the court. Everyone who checks in wants to play. They want to play with energy, they want to play with passion, everyone is elevating their game for one another. Nothing is low key anymore. This, in my opinion, has been talked about by fans, yet is still an overlooked aspect of the Celtics recent success. When players are focused in on the game, having fun, and playing with energy, the whole team’s overall play is elevated. One guy isn’t going to win games by himself. Kyrie can’t win games by himself. He needs the whole team playing at a high level, just as he is. The standards are raised and when players are meeting those standards you win basketball games and that’s exactly what we’re seeing right now from this Boston Celtic team.
On court, aside from the energy, the play looks a lot better from the Celtics. They’re trying hard on defense, communicating well, sprinting in offensive transition, making the extra pass, moving the ball at an efficient rate, knocking down shots, and playing with a will we haven’t seen all season. The players have stuck to the game plan, drawn up by Brad Stevens, and it’s paid off on this west coast swing. We’ve seen these spurts out of Boston this year, this one in a sense is different though. There’s a different vibe to this team now. They’re elevating their play just before a long-awaited playoff push. Now just a game out of the 3rd seed, the question is, ‘Can they stay at this level and increase it come playoff time?’ And that’s just something we’re going to have to wait and see.
By: Seamus Zarlingo