MILWAUKEE – One week ago, the Celtics were reeling. Now they’re wheeling and dealing, and they’re riding toward Miami atop a wave of momentum.
It was only seven days ago that the Celtics had stumbled out to an unexpected 0-2 record that had some talk shows asking, “Are the Celtics done?” after two days of the regular season.
They had lost their prized free agent signing, Gordon Hayward, potentially for the season to a horrific left ankle injury. They had lost their home opener, 108-100 to the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that was all of a sudden viewed as superior to the boys from Boston.
Fast-forward to present time, and those same Celtics are sitting at 3-2 after throwing a damper on Milwaukee’s 50th anniversary “Return to the MECCA” game Wednesday night.
Things can change quickly in the NBA, can’t they?
The Celtics just flew to Milwaukee and downed the Bucks Wednesday night, 96-89, for their third consecutive win, while limiting Giannis Antetokounmpo to his lowest point total of the season (28). Boston is receiving legitimate contributions from each player who steps on the floor, and they’re slowly finding their way with Hayward now out of the fold.
“I think we’re getting a little bit more situated,” said Jaylen Brown, who hauled in a career-best nine rebounds Wednesday night. “Now people know what to expect, what their role is, and where their shots are going to come from, and how the flow of the game is gonna go.”
Such was certainly not the case a week ago.
Boston had used its entire preseason to prepare to play a specific way, with Hayward acting as one of the team’s key cogs at both ends of the floor. When he went down, that plan was essentially thrown out the window.
“A lot of first-year guys here need to step into big roles. Guys that already had a big role have to take on an even bigger role,” said Marcus Smart, who returned to action Wednesday night after missing two straight games with sore ankles. “But it’s good. We were able to get guys in, get some experience going.”
And now, everyone from top to bottom is wheeling and dealing.
Boston’s Big Two of Al Horford and Kyrie Irving combined for 51 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists Wednesday night. They each either tied or set their Celtics career highs in scoring during the contest.
The team’s Promising Two of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, meanwhile, continued to impress while combining for 21 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot. Their defense, against a long and athletic team like the Bucks, was a game-changer.
“I keep ranting and raving about Tatum and Jaylen,” a pleased Horford said. “Everybody keeps talking about the offense, but I keep saying the defense is what impresses me.”
He went on, specifically about the 6-foot-8 rookie, Tatum.
“I’m looking at the film, and Tatum – his activity, his length, he’s there in the right places all the time, and this is only like his fifth game in the NBA,” he said with a chuckle that showcased his astonishment. “I’m just excited to see those guys keep developing.”
Everyone else, from Aron Baynes (12 points, seven rebounds) to Terry Rozier (seven rebounds, four points, two steals) contributed as well.
Here’s an indicative stat: Boston’s top eight rotational players all finished with a positive plus/minus rating against Milwaukee.
A week ago, only one of the team’s top eight players did so.
This isn’t a one-time thing, either; everyone on the team has been playing well and contributing in positive ways since last Wednesday’s defeat at the hands of the Bucks. It’s no wonder why the C’s have been rolling.
What Brad Stevens said after the game is true: they still have a long way to go. That detail, however, does not take away from the fact that this team is finding its way.
It has only been one week, and that week has only featured three victories, but the Celtics are back on track and they are riding high toward Miami.