Not only the Celtics in cruise control: Barlow leading the Maine Celtics to a hot start

Not only are the Boston Celtics dominating at the NBA level, but first-year head coach Alex Barlow has the Maine Celtics off to a hot start too (Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images)
Not only are the Boston Celtics dominating at the NBA level, but first-year head coach Alex Barlow has the Maine Celtics off to a hot start too (Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images) /

While Joe Mazzulla and the Boston Celtics continue to dazzle on the NBA level, the Celtics from up north are making some noise of their own. Led by new head coach Alex Barlow, the Maine Celtics are the only undefeated team left in the G-League. Behind the talent of the 22-year-old Croatian big man, Luka Samanic, and the offseason acquisitions of Mfiondu Kabengele, and rookie JD Davison, Maine has averaged a league-high 29.5 assists per game. Former Michigan State standout, Denzel Valentine is adding his 44 percent from the great beyond to the Maine attack as he tries to bring himself back into NBA-level competition sometime in the future.

With a top-ten offense, and a top-five defense, averaging over seven blocks per game early on in the campaign, the Celtics of the north are giving the senior team of the organization a run for their money when it comes to the hottest team in wearing green right now.

Barlow and the Celtics may have not won each of their contests by the margins that Boston did against the Hawks down in Atlanta, but their ability to make the right decisions when it matters late in the game have made all the difference in the end.

The Maine Celtics have been getting the job done late

Down by a point with under three minutes to play against the Long Island Nets, Maine found its most reliable threats. Mfiondu Kabengele and JD Davison knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to swing the momentum fully in the favor of the Celtics, putting the game out of reach within a blink of an eye. In the game prior, Alex Barlow’s squad had an 11-point lead with nine minutes to go. The Westchester Knicks would battle back to take a one-point lead heading into the final 4:30.

The Celtics did not panic, and while the lead fluctuated quite a bit throughout the game’s final minutes, Maine stayed cool under the pressure, finding the best available shot in the halfcourt. Luka Samanic’s hook shot and Denzel Valentine’s deep 3-pointer proved to be crucial in the Maine Celtics picking up the win while Maine’s two-way players put the nail in the coffin.

Most of these victories are not the kind that Mazzulla and his team are pulling out, but every one of them is filled with character as Maine had to dig in each time to pull away from the opposition late in the fourth quarter each time. Even when it found itself down, as the team did on both occasions against the Nets, Barlow’s squad just continued to chip away, not trying to do too much each time down the floor.

Although it has been just four contests, Davison has impressed with his all-around offensive game. The former Alabama product has averaged 6.3 assists along with six rebounds and over 15 points per game. There is no fear in this 20-year-old point guard who has shown his composure late in games while displaying his best Marcus Smart by putting his teammates in the right position to put the ball through the basket. With the guard depth acting as one of the strengths for the Celtics this season, Davison may not receive many opportunities at the pro level, but if resting players is going to be a priority late in the season, the chance could arise for Davison to get his first quality professional minutes under his belt.

Center, Luka Samanic is a former first-round pick by the Spurs back in 2019, and after the Knicks waived him following the signing of a two-way contract last season, the Croatian international is playing like he has something to prove. Through seven games in the G-League in the 2021/22 season, Samanic impressed, averaging just a touch over 28 points per game. Samanic’s large frame allows him to muscle through the rest of the pack to snatch a large number of rebounds. His lack of quickness and athleticism could present a problem at the NBA level, but in the G-League, this young big man is continuing to show people around the league why he was one of the first 20 players taken in the 2019 NBA Draft.

The team down in Boston may be the talk of the organization right now, and for good reason, but with a talented coach at the helm along with a group of players that are dedicated to sharing the basketball, the Maine Celtics up north could find themselves doing something special of their own. Last season in the G-League, Maine finished with a .500 record, sitting 17th in the entire league. Barlow hopes to lead the charge of a turnaround, bringing back the excitement from the 2015-2017 seasons where the club took home three straight division titles.

*This article was written before Maine’s November 17 win over Capital City.