3 Takeaways from Celtics' March Performance
Remember when the Boston Celtics were frustrating or inconsistent or anything other than a fire-breathing basketball dragon?
Well, shortly after the calendar flipped to 2022, all of that other stuff went out the window. Everything other than the basketball dragon part, at least.
Following Wednesday, the Celtics are an Eastern Conference-best 24-6 with the NBA's most efficient defense and third-most efficient offense, per NBA.com. Given the sample size, it's fair to assume this has been more than a trend; it looks transformational.
Or, rather it did before Robert Williams III's meniscus tear potentially put a wrench into Boston's plans for a basketball world takeover.
To dig into everything transpiring with this team, let's dissect three of the top lessons learned during the scorching month of March.
Jayson Tatum Is Leveling Up Again
Two years back, Jayson Tatum ascended to All-Star status. Last season, he snared his first ever All-Star start.
Somehow, the 6'8" swingman has leveled up once again. Over his first dozen outings in March, he averaged a ridiculous 33.7 points per game on an equally face-melting 53.9/46.6/91.0 shooting. If that weren't enough, he managed to cram 6.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.4 blocks into his nightly allotment of 36.7 minutes, too.
"I wish I could start the season like this. Then I'd be MVP," Tatum told reporters recently.
If this isn't Tatum's finalized form but rather another step on his evolutionary ladder, he might not have to wait much longer to add that title to his perpetually growing list of accolades.
Full-Strength Celtics Could Be Best in East
While early portions of the Shamrocks' surge were perhaps aided by soft spots in the schedule, this domination was different. Boston opened March with a five-game winning streak that included a 13-point triumph over Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies and a six-point victory over Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets.
After a three-point slip-up against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, the Celtics went streaking again and reeled off another six wins in a row. That stretch included a 22-point takedown of the Golden State Warriors, a 20-point dismantling of the Denver Nuggets, a 28-point rout of the Utah Jazz and a 22-point triumph over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Everything was clicking for the Celtics. When Tatum didn't overwhelm opponents on his own, Jaylen Brown helped out with the heavy lifting. On defense, Williams and Marcus Smart spent their time building their respective cases for Defensive Player of the Year. Al Horford, as always, masterfully filled in the cracks as some sort of human adhesive. Derrick White, Payton Pritchard and Grant Williams super-charged the second unit.
That version of the Celtics appeared as either the team to beat in the East or one on a 1A-1B standing with the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. The question now is whether Boston can get back to that level with a key component removed from the equation.
Robert Williams III's Injury Could Change Everything
There's never a good moment for someone to tear their meniscus, but Williams' injury felt particularly poorly timed. Because Boston was so red-hot at the time of the injury—and because Williams played such a critical part in that success—the injury suddenly hangs an ominous cloud over this otherwise heavyweight contender.
What could his absence—expected to span four to six weeks—mean for this club? That's hard to tell.
On the one hand, the Celtics are better equipped to cover a loss in the frontcourt than they would be on the wing. Given Horford's steady hand, Grant Williams' improvement and the shrewd deadline deal to bring Daniel Theis back to Boston, the Celtics aren't short on possible replacements.
On the other hand, none of those replacements are Williams. He gives this group an above-the-rim presence on both ends of the floor. The Celtics have other capable stoppers but no one who can erase shots like him. Similarly, they don't have a big who can add aerial spacing by rolling to the rim, elevating and smashing down lob passes.
Before the injury, Williams had arguments to be considered for both Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player. That's the kind of breakout he was engineering. Losing a player of that caliber is a brutal blow for any club, but given the minuscule margin for error for a championship hopeful, it might be impossible to overstate the kind of damage this injury could do.