It’s often been said that all that matters is right now, and for the Boston Celtics, what matters now is that they have the best record in the NBA at the conclusion of 2023.
With their 134-101 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, the Celtics finished the year with a league-leading 26-6 win-loss record. It was the sixth consecutive win for Boston, who never trailed in the game thanks to a balanced attack that saw eight Celtics players score at least seven points. Moreover, Boston outrebounded the Spurs 57-39 and asserted themselves defensively with seven blocks (to San Antonio’s lone block).
By now, we’re all familiar with the Celtics’ capabilities, as they’ve made it to the NBA Playoffs in 15 of the last 16 seasons, winning an NBA championship way back in 2008. Through it all, they’ve managed to reload and retool without missing much of a beat, and any conversations on title contenders can’t be made without them.
Those same conversations, however, also come with expectations that they will come up just short of a championship. After that 2008 title, Boston made the NBA Finals twice, losing both after being a couple of wins away from securing the championship. As great as they have been, the reputation for coming up short has stuck with them, but to be fair, more than a handful of other franchises could only dream of their recent success. For a storied franchise like the Celtics, though, winning titles are the only thing that matters.
As it stands, Boston leads the NBA this season in 3-pointers (made and attempted) and in defensive and total rebounds per game (36.0 and 47.3, respectively). They’re pretty much in the top-10 in most offensive categories and are fifth in blocks per game (6.4) and eighth in turnovers per game (13.1). That the Celtics are a strong offensive team without a player in the top ten in scoring only adds to the credence of their depth, which in turn will also strengthen Boston’s case as a title contender.
So what else is there to do for the Celtics? Well one is for them to stay healthy. None of Boston’s starters against San Antonio played in all 32 games this season, with Kristaps Porzingis already missing nine games thus far. Porzingis has never played more than 72 games in his career and that was during his rookie year so the Celtics’ goal is to have him ready for the postseason. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have missed only two games so far, but managing their minutes will be critical now that the calendar has turned to 2024. Moreover, Jrue Holiday has never been known for playing a full 82-game season so Boston’s medical staff has their work cut out for them.
Apart from the medical matters, the Celtics may need to ensure consistency and flexibility on both ends of the floor. With its current core, Boston will be good during the regular season, but when the postseason begins, they revert to bad habits and tend to suffer bouts of inconsistency. In fact, the Celtics nearly lost to the deplorable Detroit Pistons if not for the Pistons being the Pistons.
Boston head coach Joe Mazzulla will have to preach ball movement given the players at his disposal. After all, those Tatum pull-up 3-pointers and Brown’s lack of left-handed dexterity will surely stick up as sore thumbs in the postseason.
The Boston Celtics closed out 2023 on a promising note, but should we be surprised? Not really, and if anything, it’s how they perform in June that matters. That is, if they even make it past the Eastern Conference Finals. Though they lost their first game of 2024 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, they’re still sitting on the league’s best record.