Today: May 30, 2024
Today: May 30, 2024

The Celtics have been the NBA's most dominant team. Only a championship will make season complete

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The Celtics have been the NBA's most dominant team. Only a championship will make season complete
April 17, 2024
KYLE HIGHTOWER - AP

BOSTON (AP) — The Boston Celtics know that no one cares about everything they’ve accomplished during the regular season.

Being the only team to win 60 games? That’s cool.

Beating 10 teams by 30 or more points and becoming the first team in NBA history to have three 50-point wins in the same season? Not bad.

Clinching the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 playoff seed with 11 games remaining in the regular season? Yawn.

Bottom line, the Celtics know this franchise is judged by championships. And for the buckets of success this year’s team has had, it will mean nothing if it doesn’t end with the raising of its 18th championship banner to TD Garden’s rafters.

It’s why the only refrain has been about the unfinished business Boston’s players believe was left after last season’s conference finals when they fell behind the Miami Heat 3-0 and won three straight games, only to be blown out at home in Game 7. The Celtics were an NBA-best 37-4 at home this season, where they lost only once to an Eastern Conference opponent.

All-Star Jayson Tatum wants their approach to be different in the playoffs.

“Not take it for granted. I think in the past we just felt like coming back home we had the advantage, that we were supposed to win and maybe relax a little bit,” Tatum said. “Not necessarily take the opposite approach and feel like our back is against the wall when we come home. And maybe have some better outcomes.”

In an offseason that saw the exits of defensive stalwart Marcus Smart, along with last season’s Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon and big man Robert Williams, Boston found itself with the additions of Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis.

“This year we’ve been organized, we’ve been consistent,” Celtics All-Star Jaylen Brown said. “The pieces that we’ve added have made contributions right away. ... Things that might have haunted us in the past have kind of turned into some of our strengths.”

It’s also why Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens chuckled this week at the mention of his name being floated in the coaching rumor mill about a possible return to the college ranks.

He, too, wants to see their near misses bear the ultimate fruit.

“We’ve been here 11 years now and got to see this team do a lot of cool things and go a long way," Stevens said. “We’d like to get over that hump.”

A big part of why Boston has flourished has been due to the steadiness of coach Joe Mazzulla, who’s found a groove in his second season with a handpicked coaching staff that includes lead assistant Charles Lee and Sam Cassell.

He’s managed to cultivate an offense that plays to the strengths of Brown and Tatum, while also integrating Holiday and Porzingis into a group that overwhelms teams with its ability to space the floor and shoot 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Boston ended the season with the NBA’s top offensive rating and second-best defensive rating.

But it’s the 3-point shooting that has stood out.

The Celtics led the league during the regular season, attempting a 3-pointer on 47.2% of their possessions. That translated into a league-high 42.5 attempts from beyond the arc per game, but also an NBA-best average of 16.5 made 3s per game.

It has made for a pulverizing offensive machine to beat this season — if the shots are falling.

In Boston’s 64 wins they shot 40.6% from 3-point range, compared to 32.4% in its 18 losses. That includes two losses to the defending champion Denver Nuggets in which the Celtics shot under 33% from beyond the arc.

Which Boston team shows up in the playoffs remains to be seen, but it’s clear the Celtics are respected around the league for their body of work this season.

Oklahoma City Thunder coach Mark Daigneault was born in Leominster, Massachusetts, and like Mazzulla — who grew up across the state line in Johnston, Rhode Island — knows the pressure-cooker environment that surrounds New England’s pro teams.

Daigneault recalled youthful memories of driving around with his father and listening to Red Sox fans shower the hometown team with the harshest of critiques on local radio.

Daigneault has observed a coach that hasn’t withered under the constant spotlight.

“He’s got a Ferrari of a team ... in a city with high expectations, whether or not the team is a Ferrari. And he’s unflappable and made the next best decision,” Daigneault said.

Brown said this team has its eyes on the future, not the past.

“This is a different team. It’s a new year,” he said. “I know everybody’s always going to look back to the previous years, when in reality every year we have a different team.”

___

AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA

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