The Boston Celtics have started better than any other team in this NBA this season and are gradually stepping up as potential title-contenders this season. In their 74th season in the National Basketball Association (NBA), they are first in the Atlantic division and also table-toppers in the Eastern Conference with an 11-2 record. They started the season on a bad note though when they lost 107-93 to the 76ers in their opening game. Since then, Celtics enjoyed an incredible 10 wins in a row until that run was disrupted recently when they shockingly lost 100-99 to the Sacramento Kings. Even in defeat, they were still outstanding and made the Kings work extra hard to get that victory. That defeat though has now been forgotten after the 99-85 win over the Phoenix Suns earlier this week. Therefore, the loss to the Kings has now been seen as just a mere bad day at the office and a minor blip in an excellent season thus far. At this point in time, it will be ridiculous to rule out a potential 18th NBA title for the Celtics. We explore the two important factors behind their success so far this season.
Good Preseason Preparations
The Celtics enjoyed a 4-0 record in their preseason games. They won 2 games at home with the other two coming on the road. They played their first preseason game at home against the Charlotte Hornets and won 107-106 in a game that pitted off-season arrival Kemba Walker face his former side for the first time following his trade exit from the Hornets. The second game of their preseason saw the Celtics take on Orlando Magic on the road. They impressively overcame Orlando 100-75 with Jayson Tatum scoring the game’s highest point with 15 points. The Celtics then wrapped up their preseason with consecutive victories over the Cleveland Cavaliers at home and on the road. The home game ended 118-72 with the other game also ending 118-95.
The Kemba Walker Effect
After finishing 3rd in the Atlantic division and 5th overall in the Eastern Conference with a 49-33 record in the 2018-2019 NBA season, the Celtics advanced to the playoffs and got past the first round since 2011 after beating the Indiana Pacers. That fairytale run however came to crashing halt after they eventually succumbed to a crushing semifinals defeat at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks in five games.
The disappointment from that exit presented the Celtics the opportunity to reassess and reshape their team if they were to have any chance of NBA championship triumph this season. Players like Al Horford and Kyrie Irving moved to the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets respectively as free agents. Daniel Theis and Brad Wanamaker were re-signed following the expiration of their existing contracts with the Boston franchise. Enes Kanter also joined from the Portland Trail Blazers. However, the most impactful and biggest acquisition to the Celtics team during the trade was Charlotte Hornets’ 3-time NBA All-Star Point-Guard (2017, 2018, and 2019) Kemba Walker. Kemba left the Hornets after 8 years over the summer by signing a four-year, $141 million contract in free agency. His arrival has been the catalyst behind the Celtic’s formidable run this season.
In his debut for the Celtics in their 107-93 season-opening loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Kemba scored 12 points from 18 attempted shots from the field in 34 minutes in the game. This was quite a slow start but there were no doubts that he was going to be integral to the Celtics’ success this season. He has however shaken off those early-season struggles and scored the highest points in 5 of the Celtics’ last 12 games since then. In all, he tops the team’s leaderboard for averaging most points per game this season (23.4). His average points per game thus far this season is also currently the 16th best point return by any player in the NBA. He also averages the highest assists per game (5.0) in the team which is the 29th best in the overall NBA assists rankings so far this season. He also averages 4.5 rebounds per game with a 3-pointer percentage of 39.7%.
His arrival has also coincided with the good form of players like Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Gordon Hayward averages 18.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, Jaylen Brown averages 19.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game whilst Jayson Tatum also averages 20.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game.
Critics might proclaim these are early days yet with a long way to go till the end of the season. However, there is no denial that Kemba Walker has made a big difference and massive improvement on the team’s roster and could surely become the driving force behind any NBA championship triumph for the Celtics this season.