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The Celtics Are Dominating, Will It Last?

Derrick White and Kristaps Porzingis Block
(AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

For NBA fans, following the regular season has been a grueling exercise in patience, belief, and frustration. Like with any team, if we follow too closely, expectations can cloud our judgment. For Boston Celtics fans, the emotional battle goes deeper. Celtics fans have been tending their garden of “Tatum and Brown can lead us to the title” takes for almost a half-decade. The anxiousness and desire for another championship are powerful in Boston.

Year after year, the Celtics have put together good cases for why they should be seen as the quote “team to beat,” but those aspirations have fizzled out famously. Even after 50-win seasons and great net ratings in the regular season, their hurdle is still postseason play

It would make sense for fans to hold out until April or May to really buy into a Celtics championship. Even with all the baggage referenced above, consensus would still find that most believe the Celtics are juggernauts racing toward Banner 18. The first-half results would only support those findings as the Celtics are 36-11 (21-2 at home) with the best net rating in the league. The addition of Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis has worked beautifully, but the question still remains whether to believe the hype now or wait until they decidedly break through. 


First-Half Dominance 

The Celtics have owned the league’s best record for pretty much the entire season. Almost every statistic, from advanced numbers to tracking data, reinforces the Celtics record not as a fluke but as a sign of dominance. Take a look, for instance, at the Celtics record vs teams with a .500 or better winning percentage (The Celtics are 21-9 versus those opponents), and the case becomes even stronger. Not only are they winning, but they are beating the most formidable teams. Similarly, the Celtics have handled their business against lesser teams (15-2 versus opponents under .500). 

Celtics President of Basketball Operations, Brad Stevens, came into the season with a new vision for his team. Adding in Porzingis and Holiday has changed things for the better and maximized a team offensively that was already brimming with elite scoring options. It shouldn’t be understated how much the Celtics have improved from last year to this year. Look at the Celtics’ offensive and defensive four factors. On the offensive side, the Celtics have improved in almost every category. 

2023-2024 Season

Offense Offense Offense Offense Defense Defense Defense Defense
Four Factors eFG% TOV% ORB%` FT / FGA eFG% TOV% DRB%` FT / FGA
Team # 0.566 11.1 24.9 0.199 0.522 10.6 76.7 0.154
Lg Rank 5 4 16 15 2 28 8 1

2022-2023 Season

Offense Offense Offense Offense Defense Defense Defense Defense
Four Factors eFG% TOV% ORB% FT/FGA eFG% TOV% DRB% FT/FGA
Team 0.566 12 22.1 0.197 0.528 11.3 78.5 0.18
Lg Rank 4 8 25 23 3 26 1 3


Porzingis has single-handedly improved the Celtics free throw frequency, which in turn has made their halfcourt offense very potent. On the other end, Holiday and Porzingis have filled in seamlessly by replacing the defensive impact that was questioned when Marcus Smart and Robert Williams left during the offseason. As a bonus, the Celtics are holding opponents to a worse eFG% and free throw rate this year compared to last. 


Individual Improvements 

While a new mix of players has helped, the progression in some of Bostons’ mainstays has inspired hope that new habits have been installed.

For starters, the play of Jaylen Brown has relaxed animosity around his contract extension. Those who were worried that Brown would take the $300 million contract and stay stagnant in his progress can take comfort in his dedication to defense and refinement on offense. As noted before the season, Brown’s role on the Celtics shifted from years past with more offensive firepower alongside him and Tatum. The biggest sign of this is Brown’s renewed focus on shot selection. Always an elite transition scorer, the all-star has honed in on attacking defense (scoring 318 points in transition this year). Brown has taken fewer threes in the halfcourt and is taking a career-high amount of mid-range field goals.

The most impactful individual improvement might be Derrick White‘s three-point shooting. Ignore the fact that White’s percentage from behind the arc is better than at any point in his career (39% this season), but his triples have seemed to come at every big moment. White has turned into a reliable shotmaker for the Celtics. Considering that in addition to his playmaking, White can knock down difficult shots, this could be relied on later in games where Boston’s offense remains uncertain on where to start. Last night’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans showcased Whites’s shotmaking and confidence down the stretch as he shot 5-6 from the field for 13 points in the fourth quarter.


Leftover Celtics Concerns 

On Saturday, the Celtics dropped a game to the Los Angeles Clippers by 19 points. While only their eleventh loss of the season, it was the third showing against the league’s best teams in January (the others being Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets) where the Celtics came up short. This is somewhat confounding, considering they have a strong record overall against winning teams (see above:). Is it a sign that the best teams have figured the Celtics out? In a way, yes.

Those three games share similarities in that the opponent controlled the pace and physicality of the game. Part of the reason the Celtics’ defense is so good is because they have the luxury of getting set up on defense after makes. In those games they dropped, the Celtics missed a lot of shots. In turn, the other teams attacked them in transition and semi-transition. Because they do take a lot of threes and attack the offensive boards, the Celtics should know teams are going to try and exploit those opportunities when they can.

There is still plenty of season for the Celtics to work on those late-game situations. There have been a handful of examples of the crunch-time offense maturing already; it just hasn’t been consistent yet. If anything, Celtics fans can take solace in the fact that they are just scratching the surface of what they could do with Porzingis.



Matt Strout is an Editor for Back Sports Page. Matt studied Journalism and Sociology at Temple University for four years and graduated in May of 2022. While there, Matt wrote for multiple student and professional publications covering sports and the City of Philadelphia. Matt is originally from Maine and now resides in California. He has written content primarily for the NBA and PGA Tour. When Matt is not writing, he enjoys cooking and playing golf. Follow Matt’s social media on Twitter @TheRealStrout or Instagram @matt_strout96.

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