Two important aspects of the Boston Celtics’ hot start

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images /

If the Boston Celtics weren’t already at the top of everyone’s elite-team radar, beating the Warriors made it clear they should be. Even if it is just the regular season, the Celtics have dominated the first fifth of the season.

Gordon Hayward’s injury was a horrible way to start the 2017-18 NBA season, but it may have borne unexpected fruit the Boston Celtics. It was one of the worst possible starts to a season for a player, obviously, but he is going to be incredibly involved and will return to a better team.

As weird as it may seem, the expectations for Hayward are rising as the Celtics continue to win. Whatever the circumstance, Hayward will come back to a beautiful situation that he helped coordinate from the sideline.

This start to the season has gone according to the backup plan, aka, the plan that was instituted the second Hayward went down. Players like Jaylen Brown, rookie Jayson Tatum and newcomer Aron Baynes have stepped up in key moments, while young role players Daniel Theis and Semi Ojeleye have proved to be threats in Brad Stevens’ rotations and schemes.

All in all, the Celtics have looked fantastic early and their quickly developing depth is going to work in their favor.

Leading with defense

While many thought the Celtics would lose their defensive identity, they have turned into one of the top rebounding teams with the league’s best defensive rating through their first 16 games.

When it comes to opponent 3-point shooting, the Celtics own the league’s third-best rating with opponents shooting 33 percent. Stats can be used out of context, but unless it’s harder to shoot against teams that wear green, the Celtics’ defense has been thriving from its ability to disrupt 3-point shots.

The Celtics might be undersized, but their aggressiveness and speed allow them to constantly keep a hand in the face of whoever is shooting. The coherence of this team has been evident and Brad Stevens has constructed a rotation that focuses on hustle plays, rebounding and simply playing hard.

As cliché as it might be, turning Ojeleye, Theis and Abdel Nader into effective options requires trust and it starts with defense. Most importantly, it involves the right schemes. While the younger players adjust to the NBA, they are deployed in ways that they feel comfortable and have few opportunities to make mistakes. Missed shots will happen, but minimal hesitation from raw, still developing players comes from coaching.

Brad Stevens has basically won Coach of the Year, right?

The East is a cake walk, especially while the Cavaliers are off to a slow start. Even if Cleveland continues down the same path and the Celtics run away with the East, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

This incredibly hot start looks sustainable, especially if the incorporation of deep bench players is helping this run. By beating the Warriors and pretty much just about anyone who has played them (with or without Kyrie Irving and Al Horford), the Celtics are a clear threat to the rest of the league.

The depth of the Celtics is their biggest strength and it’s doubled when everyone can produce. Last year, their biggest weak spot outside of a LeBron James-stopper was making up for Isaiah Thomas as a defensive liability.

Now, they only have to make up for Marcus Smart’s shooting woes, which conveniently fit right into Irving and Jaylen Brown’s roles. The Celtics’ start to the season only allowed Brad Stevens to flex his coaching muscle, showing what he can do with undeveloped role players.

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While they may not be household names, this run has been powered by making Theis, Ojeleye and Marcus Smart effective outside of simply scoring. Assuming a defensive identity does not come from the players’ willingness to throw their bodies at defenders, it comes from coaching and turning their hustle into rewards. It’s still early, but this has “Coach of the Year” written all over it for Brad Stevens.