Celtics Catch Fire After Trade Deadline


Superstar Jayson Tatum has been the key to the Celtics’ recent success. Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe.

It can definitely be said that a lot has changed for the Boston Celtics throughout this season. They have gone from bouncing around the ninth and tenth seed in December to standing now at the fifth seed, only two games away from second. When I wrote my last article in December telling people to look out for the Celtics, they were completely out of the playoff conversation and many were discussing separating stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. It is fair to say that I had quite an unpopular opinion. But the Celtics have had a few key developments that have helped them improve so much. 

As I have written before, the Celtics are playing a different style of basketball under Ime Udoka than last season under Brad Stevens, and this has become even more evident in the last two months. Udoka’s culture of selflessness can clearly be seen in the way the Celtics play. Ball movement has increased drastically, leading to higher quality shots, and many players have diversified the shots that they take, thus making them less predictable. But the most important aspect of this new team attitude has been its effect on the Celtics’ defense. Boston’s defense now works like a perfectly balanced machine, with every player switching and hustling on every play. This has earned them the highest defensive rating in the NBA since the start of 2021, by far. Being able to hold great offensive teams to their lowest scoring nights of the season has allowed the C’s to make up for the gaps in their offense and win games they couldn’t win before.

The Celtics also made some of the best trades in the NBA, something that went unnoticed due to blockbuster trades such as that of James Harden and Ben Simmons. On the day of the trade deadline, the Celtics traded away Josh Richardson, Romeo Langford, and a 2022 draft pick to the San Antonio Spurs for Derrick White. At first, many were somewhat skeptical, as Richarson had been one of the bright spots of the Celtics this season. But ultimately White has been a great addition to the team. He has experience with Coach Udoka from when Udoka was an assistant coach with the Spurs and the US men’s national team and knows Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart through playing alongside them on the World Cup team. White has added additional shooting to the team as well as strong defense, filling in some of the defensive gaps the C’s had early on in the season. Another exciting move for the Celtics was the return of fan-favorite Daniel Theis from the Houston Rockets for Dennis Schroder, Enes Freedom, and Bruno Fernando. Although Theis is past his prime and will not be able to play big minutes for the Celtics as he did before, he is a great defender and screener and can be counted on to play well when starting big men Robert Williams and Al Horford are on the bench. Overall, Brad Stevens made great moves during his first trade deadline as Celtics GM and has solidified the Celtics roster as a defensive powerhouse.

Due to the Celtics’ recent success, they have entered the playoff conversation, and especially due to the experience of the team, many are confident that they can make a deep run. The Eastern Conference standings are currently extremely turbulent, with many teams fighting for a top seed, so it is hard to predict who the Celtics will play in the first round. It is also important to remember that health is a vital part of the Celtics’ success, so it might be a little early to start making predictions. However, it is quite significant that the Celtics are the only team in the Eastern conference with a winning record against teams that are above .500, so if they continue to rise in the standings, they should be considered serious contenders. But perhaps the most unpredictable event this year will be the final seeding of the Brooklyn Nets. After dropping seven spots in the standings while Kevin Durant was injured, they will likely seed somewhere between fifth and eighth, making them a frightening first-round opponent. 

Overall, Boston is in a great position to finish the season off strong and continue playing great basketball. As we arrive closer to the end of the season, final seeding will become clearer and it will be easier to make predictions, but for now, the Celtics just have to keep winning and climbing the Eastern Conference standings. Only then can we start having a serious discussion about the playoffs or a possible banner number eighteen.