Winning weeks have become commonplace for the Celtics now. Boston rounded out a 4-1 home stand with convincing wins over Milwaukee and Dallas. A loss in San Antonio on national TV ended a nice four-game win streak, but the Celtics bounced back to beat Detroit on Sunday afternoon. There are lots to love about the Celtics right now, so let’s take a look at some Ups and Downs from Week 8 action.
Masked Kyrie Continues to Roll
Kyrie may have been happy to finally get rid of the mask against Detroit on Sunday, but he certainly can’t be happier with the roll he has been on since wearing it. Kyrie has upped his efficiency and been on a scoring tear since donning the mask on Nov. 14. The trend continued this past week. Kyrie averaged 26.7 points in four games last week, and, with the exception of a tough match-up against Avery Bradley on Sunday, shot over 54 percent from the field in each game. Although a game-tying three rimmed out against the Spurs, Kyrie has been dynamic on the offensive end and has done everything the Celtics need of him.
Al Horford, Celtics’ Renaissance Man
A common complaint from Celtics fans about Horford is that he doesn’t always have the biggest impact on the offensive end. He can be a reluctant scorer and defer to others more often than he should. But what Horford does better than anyone on the Celtics is find balance in his game. If the team needs him to score the ball, he will, like when he dropped 27 on the Bucks in October. If everyone else is in a groove offensively, Horford has no problem sharing the ball and dishing out a career-high 11 assists.
Plenty of people will say that Kyrie unlocked Horford. In reality, Horford’s complete game unlocks and enhances the play of all of those around him. His playmaking ability frees up Kyrie to score at will. His defense, along with Aron Baynes, allows perimeter players to gamble with assurance that they have help in the paint. Horford’s game is a quiet one and can go overlooked, but take him off this team and you will quickly realize his value.
Jayson Tatum Continues to Impress
Ask any basketball media member, NBA expert, or casual fan, and 99 percent of them will say they never expected this level of play from Tatum. If it weren’t for Ben Simmons, Tatum would be the favorite for Rookie of the Year. Tatum has had many jaw dropping stats this season. He’s leading the NBA in three-point percentage (52.3 percent) and has scored in double digits for 16 straight games. As if being a major contributor on the team with the league’s best record at 19-years old wasn’t enough, Tatum is showing he’s more than capable of performing under pressure.
Tatum has become one of the most effective fourth quarter players on the Celtics. He’s averaging 4.1 points per game in the fourth quarter, his most in any quarter. While some fans may not be impressed, considering Isaiah Thomas averaged double digits in the fourth last season, Tatum’s shooting splits will surely drive the point home. He’s shooting 66.7 percent from the field, 71.4 percent from beyond the arc, and 91 percent from the free throw line. Tatum hasn’t been relied upon to score in volumes late in games, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to give him a few more chances.
Kyrie Irving on clutch Jayson Tatum: "Some people have it and some people don’t. It’s just as simple as that. I think he’s pretty much shown that he can play, as people say, with the big boys at the end of the game." pic.twitter.com/i5yNtXewc3
— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) December 11, 2017
Avery Bradley, Known Kyrie Stopper
Celtics fans are familiar with Bradley’s ability to harass Kyrie. In the past Boston loved it, but now not so much. This is more of a long-term concern, but nonetheless something to keep an eye out for. In two games against Bradley and the Pistons, Kyrie averaged just 17 points on 36 percent shooting. If the Celtics find themselves with a playoff match-up against Detroit, Bradley’s defense could become a factor. Will it be enough to turn the tides in Detroit’s favor? Most likely not. But it could make things a lot more difficult than they have to be.
Possible Shooting Slump?
The Celtics were riding a hot streak on offense coming into last week’s play. In four games against Indiana, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Phoenix, Boston shot at least 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. They continued that trend against Milwaukee to start the week, then dropped off in the final three games. Such a small sample size could be nothing to worry about, but it’s worth monitoring. The Celtics had been making their way up the league ranks in team offense over the past few weeks. Consistency in that regard will be important in keeping them atop the Eastern Conference.
Jaylen Brown’s Decision Making
With Horford, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier on the team, Brown’s lack of playmaking isn’t too much of a concern. What is a concern, thought, is Brown’s decision-making. Brown is always going to be one of the more athletic players on the floor. He can get to the rim at will, but sometimes that has become a problem. Whether trying to make a move 1-on-1, or trying to bully his way through multiple defenders, Brown has a tendency to force things. That leads to bad shots and turnovers. If he lets the game come to him he should be fine, but some development in that area would be nice.