Only 5 minutes and 11 seconds of the first game in his Boston Celtics career, Gordon Hayward horrifically dislocated his ankle: and the Celtics season was “OVAH!” Well, that’s what many, including Charles Barkley, said soon after Hayward’s injury.
The Celtics went on to lose that season opener in Cleveland, 102-99; and they followed it up the next night, with their home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks which turned out to be another loss, 108-100. At the time, I wrote here on SportsGrid, that I actually liked what I saw, and that maybe, not in the short term, but in the long term, the team would be better for it. I didn’t realize that long term would mean only 11 games into the season.
After that 0-2 start, the Celtics haven’t lost since.
They’ve won nine games in a row and now have the best record in the NBA. My logic was that with Hayward’s injury, “the kids”, Jaylen Brown and rookie, Jayson Tatum would be forced into more playing time, and quicken their development. Maybe after the All-Star Game, they will hit a wall, but for now, they are playing like 10-year veterans. They are each playing over 31 minutes per game, with Tatum averaging 14.3 pts and 6.5 rebounds; while Brown tops 15 pts and 6.4 rebounds. Terry Rozier has replaced Avery Bradley’s production nicely, and the tandem of Marcus Morris, (acquired in the Avery Bradley trade), with Semi Ojelye, (2nd round draft pick), have combined to outperform the loss of Jae Crowder, (who was traded as part of the Kyrie Irving deal). Speaking of Irving, although he’s not putting up the same gaudy numbers that Isaiah Thomas did last year, he’s proving to be every bit the leader that Thomas was, and is definitely making his teammates better.
Exhibit A, is “Average” Al Horford; as he’s been dubbed by Lou Merloni, a Boston sports radio figure on WEEI. This year, Horford has been anything but “average”; he’s at least been “Above Average Al”. He’s averaging nearly a double-double this year, with 14.6 pts and 9.2 rebounds; to go along with nearly 5 assists per game.
This season is shaping up to be another number-one seed, and trip to the conference finals. Anything beyond that will be a bonus, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this group makes a trip to the Finals against the Warriors…after that, it’s GAME ON, and let’s see what the kids can do.
One thing is certain: 5 minutes and 11 seconds into the season, nobody believed this Celtics team would be anywhere near the Finals, or realistically discussing it. The nucleus of the team is under 25 years old, averaging 24.3 years of age. Danny Ainge built this team for the long term.
With Tom Brady, now 40 years old, he and the Patriots have to slow down at some point: the Red Sox are in disarray, hiring new manager Alex Cora, and the Bruins are nowhere near a Stanley Cup; the Celtics will be the next great dynasty in Boston…and that dynasty begins NOW.
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