It only took 16 games into the season for the Boston Celtics to earn a victory lap.
Not that they’ll take it because the only cause for celebration the franchise is concerned with involves duck boats parading through the streets of Boston, but they’ve earned a small one nonetheless for batting practically 1.000 on decisions of significance over the past few years.
Even before Danny Ainge’s process began to bear fruits this season, the Celtics general manager had done about as well as imaginable in rebuilding the team in the post Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo era.
Built on Isaiah Thomas and a cast of dependable role players, Boston secured 53 wins and the top seed in the East last year before being ousted by LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals. It was good, but not good enough for Ainge.
So he took a blowtorch to the team and reconstructed the roster, bucking conventional wisdom along the way.
The number one overall pick was traded, essentially swapping Markelle Fultz for Jayson Tatum while netting a potential future lottery pick in the process.
Fultz has been injured to start his career, but even basing the deal solely on how good Tatum looks, it’s shaping up as a home run.
Then there was the trade that sent fan favourite Thomas, along with Jae Crowder and the highly-coveted Brooklyn pick, for Kyrie Irving.
It was a gamble on Irving having not reached his full potential and so far, that gamble has been validated. While his counting stats are down, Irving’s defence has been at an all-time high and he’s almost seamlessly meshed himself within Brad Stevens’ offence.
Speaking of Stevens, perhaps Ainge’s biggest bet has been on one of the game’s brightest minds. Even with Gordon Hayward expected to be on the floor, this roster was always going to heavily rely on players still on their rookie contracts, meaning Stevens had his work cut out in assimilating the young guys.
A sampling of games vs. Boston's defense this season:— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) November 17, 2017
Carmelo 3/17 (18 FG%)
Steph Curry 3/14 (21 FG%)
K Porzingis 3/14 (21 FG%)
Joel Embiid 4/16 (25 FG%)
Kemba 5-19 (26 FG%)
Klay 5-18 (28 FG%)
RWestbrook 7/20 (35 FG%)
And yet, Boston have come together in record time to boast the league’s best record and defence, allowing a ridiculous 95.4 points per 100 possessions.
The crazy part isn’t that Ainge and the Celtics’ approach has been proven right – it’s how quickly it’s all worked out.
Boston may very well be the team of the future in the East, as Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, but they also may be arriving sooner than everyone thought.
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