‘It’s fun out there.’ Celtics’ winning streak reaches eight
Late Friday night, Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving stood in his team’s locker room after yet another breezy victory and was asked what it took for this team to get back on track.
“I don’t think we ever were on track,” he said. “I think we were still trying to figure out what that track looked like for us.”
The 10-10 start continues to fade off into the distance, though. This lengthy winning streak has not included many anxious moments. For the most part, the offense has been humming, the scores have been lopsided and the victories have poured in.
Friday night was no different. The stomping against the lowly Hawks was so thorough that the Celtics actually allowed a 19-0 Atlanta run at one point, and still took a 129-108 win.
Boston has now won a season-high eight games in a row, as it easily flicked away yet another overmatched opponent. The streak is tied for the longest in the NBA this season, and it’s the Celtics’ second longest winning streak since 2011-12.
“It’s fun out there,” forward Marcus Morris said, “and I think you can tell from the outside looking in that guys are buying into what’s going on. I think guys are believing in each other and coming together and just understanding our roles.”
While this has been an impressive run, none of the eight wins have come against teams that currently have winning records. That will remain true in the next two games as well, when the Celtics face the Pistons and Suns. Nevertheless, Boston has feasted against opponents it is supposed to feast against.
Irving led the Celtics with 24 points in just 23 minutes against the Hawks, and Morris continued his torrid shooting by making 6 of 8 3-pointers and finishing with 20 points. The margin was so wide that Boston’s starters were able to watch the fourth quarter from the bench, which could be helpful considering they face the Pistons on Saturday night.
The Celtics made 19 of 39 3-pointers, and rookie Robert Williams blocked five shots in just 16 minutes. Boston now has seven 120-point games this season. It had five all of last year.
“Our communication is at an all-time high,” Morris said. “Guys are moving the ball and the ball is not sticking. We’re scoring it and we’re playing really well.”
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this streak is that the Celtics have crafted it despite consistently missing key pieces. Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, and Aron Baynes have all missed games during this stretch. Horford on Friday sat out for the fourth straight game due to pain in his left knee, but once again he was not needed.
The insertions of Morris and Marcus Smart into the starting lineup have been a boon, and coach Brad Stevens is finding combinations of players who can thrive together.
“We feel a lot more comfortable with where our spots are,” Stevens said. “You can tell they’ve got a good feel for playing together. And yet there are still some groups that I think could play even better. So that’s encouraging.”
The Celtics could do no wrong at the start of Friday’s game. They made their first nine shots and snagged a 22-5 lead.
Boston was playing freely and comfortably, with the confidence that flows from this kind of streak. The Celtics shot 72.7 percent from the field in the first quarter, made five of six 3-pointers, and forced nine turnovers to take a 42-19 edge to the second quarter.
But large advantages can be fleeting, even against inferior opponents. And sure enough, Atlanta bounced back against the Celtics’ second unit with an improbable 19-0 run. Atlanta pulled within 49-45 on a Kevin Huerter 3-pointer with 4:29 left, but that turned out to be just a minor inconvenience.
The Celtics stretched their lead back to 67-56 at halftime, and less than two minutes into the third quarter, Irving had hit two more 3-pointers during a 10-0 burst that made it 77-56. The rest of the night was mostly transformed into a display of dunks, blocked shots, and 3-pointers.
“We’re really playing together, and we’re connected on both ends,” Hayward said, “especially when we’re communicating defensively.”
Williams put another jolt into the crowd with his shot-swatting skills. He registered his first one just 10 seconds after checking into the game in the first half, and then during a one-minute stretch in the third quarter had emphatic rejections of Kent Bazemore and Vince Carter. The second one was knocked all the way to Boston’s bench.
While those plays are certainly fun, Irving, for one, wants to make it clear that this is hardly time to celebrate.
“We’re definitely not satisfied at all,” he said. “We don’t want to be mediocre at all. So I think [we need to] keep pushing every single game and showing why we want to be the best team.”