Since the 2019-20 NBA season, the Boston Celtics have lost in the Eastern Conference Finals twice and the NBA Finals once. The roster surrounding Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown was always talented, but not good enough to get them over the hump. Last year's loss to the Miami Heat in the ECF seemed to be the final straw, as big changes were on the way.
The Celtics would end up trading Malcolm Brogdon and Robert Williams to the Portland Trailblazers, Grant Williams to the Dallas Mavericks, and Marcus Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies. Both Williams and, especially, Smart were staples of recent Cs teams and hurt to lose. In return for these trades, Boston was welcoming two new faces, Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis.
The difference between the 2022-23 team and the 2023-24 team changed a lot about the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics were now loaded with an extremely talented starting five in Tatum, Brown, Holiday, Porzingis, and Derrick White. The only problem was, how would they play together? Porzinigs has always been a first or second option wherever he’s played. As for Holiday, when he was on the Bucks, he was always option two or three, but was capable of having nights where he was the number one guy.
Would everyone in this new starting five be willing to take a backseat in any given game and become option three, four, or even five? Would they actually be able to become one cohesive unit? Well, during an interview with Hardwood Houdini's Andrew Hughes, Tatum spoke glowingly about the team’s chemistry.
“It’s been great," Tatum prefaced before saying, "Especially now, a little bit over the halfway point of the season. You know, everybody's well acclimated; we're all comfortable with each other. And everybody is just high-IQ basketball players. So, you know, that makes it a very easy transition.”
Boston Celtics' play thus far this season proves Jayson Tatum's theory
If you look at the Celtics' 34-10 record, it would be hard to disagree with Tatum. It wouldn’t have been shocking if the Cs had gotten off to a slow start this season and took time to gel together. Instead, they hold the NBA’s best record.
While Marcus Smart is someone you can never replace in Boston, they did their best with Holiday, who, like Smart, is one of the best defensive players in the entire league. Porzingis, on the other hand, was a clear upgrade. His ability as a shot-blocker and disruptive force on the defensive end, paired with the floor spacing he brings on offense, has been a perfect fit for the Celtics.
Another factor that's been helping Porzingis is his incredible relationship with Jaylen Brown. Those two have very quickly become great friends off the court, and it’s helping them on the court. So, on top of the high IQ mentioned by Tatum, the ability and fit of this combination of players have also seemingly helped the transition.
With just under half a season still left to play, it makes you wonder if things can get even better. The starting five of White, Holiday, Brown, Tatum, and Porzingis have only played 22 games and 349 minutes together this season. That’s fewer games than other contending teams starting lineups, like the Bucks, Timberwolves, and Thunder, for this season alone. Those teams, along with others, had the benefit of playing together last season as well.
With team chemistry already a non-issue, the sky is the limit for this iteration of the Boston Celtics. It’s the most talented team in recent memory, and they all have one goal in mind: bring home Banner 18.