The Boston Celtics are 6-4 over their last ten games (as of March 20) with three of them coming on a long road trip to the West Coast over the past week. While that record may not seem too impressive, the C’s have been playing some of their best basketball of the season during this stretch. What could be sparking this current run? Kyrie Irving cited the long plane ride where they were able to shake off the cobwebs of the long regular season and allowed them to get some chemistry going again.
Starting off facing the two-time reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors, the Celtics were able to break out of a 2-7 slump while dismantling the best team in the league. They did this all to the tune of the Warriors’ worst defeat of the season: a 33-point home loss. This was the first game that the Warriors lost wire-to-wire, meaning they did not lead at a single point during the game, since March 2006.
The Celtics then traveled to Sacramento to face a fiesty Kings team who have been on the fringe of the Western Conference playoffs and fighting to get in. Led by Jayson Tatum’s 24 points, this game went down to the final seconds. Gordon Hayward made up for a very unfortunate foul on the Kings’ young star Buddy Hield’s three-point attempt inside ten seconds by sinking a jumper to win the game. This win was all the more important because the Celtics most likely own the Kings’ first round pick this year as a result of the Jayson Tatum for Markelle Fultz trade during the 2017 Draft.
The Celtics then traveled down the Golden Coast to face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, a matchup between two of the league’s biggest disappointments from the beginning of the season, with both teams projected to finish near the top of their respective conferences. The Celtics currently occupy the 5th seed in the East while the Lakers find themselves a shocking nine games out of the playoff race in the West. Irving led the way with 30 points and took the game over during the fourth quarter to seal the victory. LeBron’s 30-point triple double threatened a Laker comeback, but without the LA’s three young stars (Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma), it simply wasn’t enough. Head coach Luke Walton has also since decided that LeBron will play with a minute’s restriction for the rest of the season, essentially waving the white flag on the team’s playoff hopes.
The Celtics then got blown out by the LA Clippers in their final game of the road trip to the tune of a 25-point loss. Lou Williams appeared incapable of missing a shot all night as he became the NBA’s all-time bench points leader.
Boston then returned home to TD Garden for a three-game home stand. In the first two matchups, the Celtics gutted out back-to-back wins against Sacramento and Atlanta on the back of consecutive 30-point outings from Irving. However, the C’s fell to the Denver Nuggets on Monday, which clinched a postseason berth for head coach Mike Malone’s squad after the Nuggets narrowly missed the playoffs last season.
The West Coast road trip coincided with a number of players like Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown breaking out of slumps. Brown was moved to the bench after his hand injury which resulted in a series of poor performances and a very slow start to the season for a young man who was red hot during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavaliers. While Brad Stevens has reiterated that for now the starting lineup will remain the same, Brown has earned his starting minutes back and has been playing the entire fourth quarter in most games. He is second on the team in net rating with a +7.6 rating, third in points per game with 13.9, and has been playing lockdown defense on some of the league’s best players like Paul George, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, and James Harden. The third year guard’s strong play over the past few months has resulted in a much better record for the Celtics and now that he seems to have found his role in the offense, he has seemed happier and it shows on the court.
Gordon Hayward’s inconsistency has been incredibly difficult for the Celtics to gameplan around.On any given night, he could go for 30 against the best team in the league or be invisible on offense and a liability on defense. Brad Stevens has allowed him a ton of leeway this season, with good cause as Gordon’s injury last season was devastating. It appeared that he had to work himself back into playing shape. His success has translated to the team success: the C’s boast an insane 22-2 record when Hayward shoots better than 50 percent from the field. With only 12 games remaining in the regular season, getting him going should be a major focus of the team.