Kyrie Irving

Jim Fuller/USA Today Sports

Five things we learned during Celtics 8-game winning streak before it ended

John Tomase
December 16, 2018 - 1:30 pm

Five things we learned during the Celtics' eight-game winning streak, which ended on Saturday night in Detroit on the second night of a back-to-back …

1. Less is more

I'll admit it -- I didn't really see the problem of having too many good players when the season started. If the Celtics could reach the conference finals without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, just imagine how good they'd look with the entire roster healthy?

Reality proved more vexing. Terry Rozier failed to thrive off the bench like he did as a starter. Jaylen Brown struggled to find a fit. Jayson Tatum's summer in the Kobe Bryant Isolation Tank produced some early selfish play that thankfully didn't last. Hayward played tentatively while testing his ankle. Al Horford ended up lost in the shuffle.

Remove a few bodies from the equation -- even All-Stars like Horford and Hayward -- and suddenly Brad Stevens' shortened rotations allowed the C's to organically engage scramble mode, which is where they excel. Guys like Marcus Smart and Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis don’t need shots in anything other than the flow of the offense, allowing the likes of Marcus Morris and Irving and Tatum to bomb away with impunity.

The results were pretty stunning from an offensive perspective, with the Celtics topping 120 points six times during their streak.

2. Marcus Smart is a force

A Celtics fan's level of obnoxiousness can generally be measured by how vehemently he touts Smart's contributions while refusing to acknowledge his awful shooting on a nightly basis, as if it's a necessary component of his success.

Let's just say I'm coming around. The fifth-year guard will never be a marksman, but he leaves his imprint on the game in so many other ways, it's hard to envision the Celtics winning a title without him.

Smart might be the only player in the league who can score six points with three assists and still post a plus-33, as he did in a blowout of the Bulls. The eight-game winning streak overlapped with Smart joining the starting lineup, and it's no coincidence. His toughness and tenacity give the team its identity, and even at seven points and four assists a game, he's indispensable.

3. Kyrie is an alpha

Watching Irving on a nightly basis is a joy simply for his feats of dexterity and ball-handling magic, but we're watching him mature into more of a leadership position, too.

It's split evenly between on-court performance and off-court motivation. He buried the dagger 3 in the face of John Wall to beat the Wizards and he averaged nearly 25 points a game during the winning streak.

But just as importantly, he encouraged Hayward to attack, which led to an uptick in performance. He was also the team spokesman during a slow start, demanding accountability. Irving doesn't mind hurting feelings or getting in someone's face, and he has established high expectations that his teammates strive to meet.

4. They exploited the schedule

It's worth noting that not one of their eight wins came against a team that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. In fact, the Celtics bookended the streak with losses to the only two playoff teams they've faced in the last month -- the Mavericks and Pistons.

Whereas last year's C's delivered a series of high-profile victories against the best of the Western Conference (Golden State, Houston, Portland, Utah, OKC), this year's squad has lost six of its last seven to playoff squads.

These are the kind of games where they'll need their high-end talent to mesh and shine. In the meantime, we should view this winning streak with appropriate perspective -- they weren't exactly beating the iron.

5. Robert Williams is a hell of a lot of fun

I hate *hate* HATE the stupid Time Lord nickname, but that aside, it's fair to say the Celtics haven't boasted a player with Williams' skill-set during Danny Ainge's tenure.

If there's a player in the league who sheds gravity more quickly, I haven't seen him. Even if the rookie hunts blocks at times, it's still astounding to watch him turn limited minutes into legitimate highlight reels. He sent two shots back in the face of Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis, and he blocked five in only 16 minutes during a win over the Hawks.

He also took a minus-14 in those 16 minutes, so he remains a work in progress. But considering where the Celtics drafted him (27th overall) and his age (21), it looks like Stevens has something to work with, especially since Williams doesn't just finish lobs offensively, he's a decent passer, too.

More, please.

Comments ()