Things looked a bit bleak for the Boston Celtics a week-and-a-half ago. They had dropped three consecutive games (all to Eastern Conference playoff teams) and were spitting the bit in the second halves of those contests.
The Celtics have since rebounded, winning four straight contests, including a pair of impressive road victories.
Boston now sits at 18-13 and back in the top eight in the East’s playoff picture.
Let’s break down what we have seen in the Celtics’ recent run of impressive play.
Perhaps the biggest–and most important–aspect to take away out of all of this is the Celtics’ resiliency and ability to pick themselves up off the mat.
When Boston lost three straight games, the doubters (myself included) immediately surfaced, questioning whether or not the Celtics’ solid start to the season was nothing more than a mirage.
It appeared that guys like Avery Bradley were coming back down to earth and that the team was in flux.
Boston responded to the naysayers with a big road win over the Charlotte Hornets (its second win in Charlotte in December) and a key road triumph over the Detroit Pistons.
Considering that both of those wins came against teams fighting for playoff spots along with the C’s, they were extremely important.
This bounceback could serve as a turning point in the Celtics’ season as it demonstrates that Boston is likely, in fact, for real.
The C’s are a scrappy bunch.
The Golden State Warriors have the best road record in the league.
You know who is tied for second?
Boston is 9-6 away from home, with six of those nine wins coming against ballclubs with winning records.
The C’s have displayed their prowess on the road during this win streak, beating a Hornets team that is 12-5 in its own arena and a Pistons squad that is 10-5 at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
One of the trademarks of being a top-notch team is being able to win in hostile environments, and the Celtics have done that thus far.
Jae Crowder Has Been AwesomeWhen Jae Crowder came over from the Dallas Mavericks in the Rajon Rondo deal last season, he was viewed by most as a mere throw-in. However, he has proven to be much more than that.
Crowder has been terrific over his last five games, averaging 18 points off a 54.7 percent shooting clip.
What’s more, he has posted three double-doubles in this current span and is recording nine boards per contest.
Crowder is developing into one of the better two-way small forwards in the league. His outside shot is improving, and his efficiency has been great overall this season, posting a true shooting percentage of 57.4 percent and an effective field-goal percentage of 53 percent.
The 25-year-old may also be the emotional leader of this Celtics team.
Kelly Olynyk Has Been Consistent
“Consistent” is not a word you would normally use when describing Kelly Olynyk, but that is exactly what he has been during this win streak.
Olynyk is averaging 14.8 points over these last four games while shooting 59.5 percent from the floor and 54.5 percent from three-point range.
Not only that, but the third-year big man has been doing a solid job on the glass, tallying 7.5 rebounds in 26 minutes.
This recent stretch comes on the heels of a three-game stint where Olynyk was absolutely terrible, but for the most part, the Canadian has been enjoying a very steady month of December.
As a result, Olynyk has seen an uptick in minutes.
Cameos By Tyler Zeller and Jonas Jerebko
After putting together nice 2014-15 campaigns, Tyler Zeller and Jonas Jerebko had essentially been forgotten this season.
However, both players have emerged during this win streak and could be working their way back into Brad Stevens’ favor.
Jerebko scored 12 points in 25 minutes in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Dec. 21, and Zeller tallied 14 points and eight boards that same night.
Zeller has also been playing 12.3 minutes per game during the streak, about four minutes above his season average (8.6).
At the very least, both of these guys could play themselves into tradeable assets by the trade deadline.
Marcus Smart had missed 18 straight games with a knee injury, but he returned to action on Sunday night against the New York Knicks, playing 13 minutes in the win.
Smart should provide a tangible lift to what is already a very good Celtics defense, and if he can progress offensively, that’s just gravy.
This also gives Stevens more versatility and combinations to work with in the backcourt. It could actually throw things off-kilter for a little while, but once he finds a way to re-integrate Smart into the lineup, it should pay dividends.
Well, for starters, the Celtics’ next three games should be wins.
They have the Los Angeles Lakers at TD Garden and then have a home-and-home with the Brooklyn Nets (although the Nets did beat them in Brooklyn last month).
After the two contests with the Nets, they host the Pistons, a game where they will be absolutely be favored to win at home.
So, Boston could actually run off an eight-game win streak here to get to 22-13.
Of course, you have to account for things like off shooting nights, injuries, randomness, etc., so you can’t just assume that the C’s are going to come out on top in all of these upcoming games.
Still, the potential is clearly there.
It would also really behoove the Celtics to take these next four because January is not going to be an easy month.
After hosting Detroit, nine of Boston’s final 14 games of January will be on the road. Yes, the C’s have been good away from home all season, but you would still obviously rather play within the friendly confines of your own arena.
The good news is that all of these games should be winnable for the Celtics, with the Toronto Raptors probably representing their most challenging opponent during this upcoming stretch.
All things considered, the most important thing to take note of is how Boston responded when its season was essentially hanging in the balance. The C’s could have folded after those three straight losses, but instead, they regrouped and have constructed a nice little run that has put them right back in the thick of things in the competitive Eastern Conference.