It’s almost sweet revenge to see this year’s Celtics squad start out the 2019–20 NBA season with an electrifying 16–5 record. Currently sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics are firing on all cylinders as coach Brad Stevens continues to churn out victories night in and night out. Adapting the “next man up” mentality following a slew of injuries to key players such as Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward, this Celtics team has a strong bench and a starting lineup that can go toe-to-toe with any powerhouse.
Last season, the Celtics struggled all season despite the development of their younger players and the return of Kyrie Irving, and they were destined to disappoint in the playoffs once again — which they did. But, here are three reasons why the Celtics seem to be “different” this season:
No Kyrie Irving
Look, I think Kyrie Irving is a talented basketball player. He is a top 15 player in the NBA and can take control of a game if need be; however, I did not like him in a Celtics uniform. I thought he ruined the strong locker room culture that Stevens was trying to create. After the Celtics’ 2018 rookies took a step forward, Kyrie seemed to essentially wipe out Jayson Tatum’s and Jaylen Brown’s development last season. He played more than enough iso-ball and took far too many contested shots that went in less than half the time. Additionally, his unpredictable attitude brought turmoil to the locker room, as many arguments arose between Irving and his teammates. With Irving “taking his talents” to Brooklyn, the Celtics are more of a team and are once again developing that camaraderie that existed two seasons ago.
The Addition of Kemba Walker
This one is a no-brainer. The effect that Kemba Walker has had on this Celtics squad is evident with their current success. Unlike Irving who seemed to take off possessions to “rest,” Walker is playing at 100% every time he is on the floor. He makes plays off the ball, can even draw mismatches against bigger players (Nikola Jokic and Kristaps Porzingis, for example) and expose them on the offensive floor. Needless to say, Walker has been the answer to the Celtics’ problems this season.
Jayson Tatum’s Development
One of the more volatile players on the Celtics roster, Tatum has officially returned to his talented self during this latest stretch. After experiencing a slight sophomore slump last season, Tatum has developed on both sides of the floor. Without Irving suffocating the offense, Tatum has more leeway when it comes to creating shots and driving to the rim. As he continues to develop into a future all-star, Tatum’s influence on this Celtics team will be evident down the stretch.
Look, this Celtics team is good, but let’s dampen the expectations slightly. As much as I love this team, it is not an easy path towards an NBA title. The Lakers are a juggernaut and the Bucks and 76ers look to be potent come playoff time. Nonetheless, I believe this Celtics team will be fun to watch, but they might rip our hearts out in May.