Celtics moving in the right direction

Last week we wrote about a late November, early December slate of games where the Celtics were poised to get on track and ready to feast on a tidy treat of tomato cans, complements of the NBA scheduling gods. After a head-scratching loss to the Knicks, where the best online sportsbooks like BetOnline, found all in one place at Sportsbook Review, were hanging the Shamrocks as 14 ½ point home favorites over the hapless Knicks, it became apparent that this new iteration of the Boston Celtics just wasn’t working.

However, an impressive 124-107 win over the Pelicans in New Orleans signaled what we believe is the beginning of a renaissance this season. The Celtics have now won three straight and are hot off the heels of a 118-109 victory against Minnesota; perhaps the most formidable opponent they will face until their friendly schedule turns ominous with a December 21st date in Boston with the Bucks looming. It wouldn’t be beyond the pale to envision a 10-game winning streak when the Greek Freak comes to town and it’s due to Brad Stevens’ deftly shifting gears with his starting unit and cultivating the chemistry that the team exhibited last season even without superstars Gordon Hayward, and towards the end of the season, Kyrie Irving.

It’s never a bad thing when an NBA team has a healthy roster of shooting talent but it’s important to remember there’s only one basketball to go around and if a scorer isn’t getting his share of looks, those automatic jump shots are no longer quite so automatic. Head coach Brad Stevens understood that the luxury liner he was given to captain by GM Danny Ainge at the onset of the season was sputtering under his helmsmanship and a change was needed, regardless of the bruised egos the new direction could foster.

Stevens has apparently pressed the right buttons for now as Marcus Smart has seamlessly assumed his spot in the starting rotation, injecting a defensive presence amongst a team with tremendous scoring potential. The other Marcus, Marcus Morris, has thrived in his starting role as well. But perhaps the most pleasant byproduct of the chess pieces being moved around the board has been the improvement of Gordon Hayward in his new role off the bench. Known as the “other” prized free agent from two years ago, Hayward has struggled in his return to the court after missing last season with a gruesome ankle break suffered in the season opener.

If Saturday night’s performance is any indication, Hayward’s mojo is revving up after the expectations to return to his previous incarnation as an All-Star scorer has subsided as he struggled to find his role, and his shot, in the starting unit. Hayward came off the bench and drilled a season-high 30 points to go along with nine rebounds and eight assists. It was in stark contrast to the tentative and inconsistent performances he has delivered in a starting role this season. However, it’s not all lollipops and sunshine quite yet. Jaylen Brown has been out for three consecutive games with a back injury and his performance this season has diminished markedly. In addition, Terry Rozier, a stunningly pleasant surprise last season after taking over for Kyrie Irving in the home stretch of the regular season and throughout the playoffs, has murmured that he’s not quite as content to take a backseat anymore. But it’s Kyrie we’re talking about here so for now he will come off the bench and if he wants to get paid big money next season as a starter somewhere besides Boston, then he will need to produce results commensurate with those lofty expectations.

Saturday’s road win over a solid Timberwolves team could be viewed as a galvanizing moment of the season, at least that’s what we are gleaning from Kyrie Irving who said, “Someone told me the other day that we all wanted to win individually, but we all wanted to win on our terms. Our own terms. When you have your own individual intent, that can get in the way of the group and what’s best for the group. ... It’s just being part of a profession and figuring it out, and having guys willing to listen and be patient.”

The Celtics have an upcoming series of very winnable games which should put plenty of daylight between what was a .500 record a little over a week ago and a place amongst the top teams in the Eastern Conference. If Jaylen Brown can take a few tips from Gordon Hayward and be more concerned about what he does when he’s on the court, as opposed to how often his number is called, his minutes will increase and so too will his role with a Celtics’ team that seems to finally have its act together after a rough first quarter of the season.