PORTLAND – It won’t all come together at the same time. Piece by piece, however, the Boston Celtics are inching their way toward expectations.
If (and when, we hope) it all clicks, this team will be as dangerous as everyone expected it to be heading into the season.
Boston is now 7-6 on the season after completing a disappointing 1-4 road trip with Sunday’s defeat in Portland. Beneath those records, though, lies a compelling story regarding two of its top players: Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum are beginning to look like themselves again, and they’re doing so at the very same time.
That might be the only positive the team can carry back home on its cross-country flight.
The biggest problem for the Celtics this season has been its offense, which, considering its talent level and the proven track record of its players, is a shocking revelation. Boston ranks 28th in the league in field goal percentage at 42.6 percent.
Players from the top of the rotation to the bottom of the rotation have been missing shots which they normally make. Game by game, however, those misses are becoming a bit less frequent for Irving and Tatum.
Irving averaged just 14.0 points per game and shot just 39.1 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from 3-point range during Boston’s first six games of the season, nearly a two-week stretch. Since then, however, he has found his stroke and upped those numbers to 28.0 PPG on 52.1 percent shooting from the field and 49.1 percent shooting from long distance.
Tatum, too, has found his way out of a funk that lasted more than two weeks. Tatum averaged 11.2 PPG while shooting 33.9 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from beyond the arc from Oct. 27-Nov. 8, a span of six games. During the last two games of this road trip, though, he has caught fire to average 24.0 PPG on 50.0 percent shooting from the field and 53.8 percent shooting from 3-point range.
Tatum’s two-game resurgence culminated Sunday night with a game-high and season-high 27 points against the Portland Trail Blazers. He scored 25 points during the first three quarters and was a big reason why Boston got back into the game after trailing by as many as 21 points. Irving, meanwhile, scored 21 points of his own, including 15 during the second half
The fact that Tatum and Irving have found their offensive rhythm at the same time is a fact that can’t be overlooked with regard to Boston’s short-term future. To this point of the season, it has never had two of its top payers scoring at an effective rate at the same time.
Such is not the case anymore. Irving and Tatum are now humming.
It must also be noted that Sunday was the first game these two have played together this season while they’ve been in rhythm, as Irving was not available to play alongside Tatum Friday night in Utah when Tatum relocated his shooting stroke.
Boston entered Sunday’s contest having attempted the highest percentage of open shots (32.5 percent) of any team in the league, per NBA.com/stats, yet it ranked 28th in the league in field goal percentage on open shots. It can’t be expected that a team of Boston’s caliber and talent will continue to miss those shots on a regular basis moving forward.
“That’s kind of a good thing,” Tatum said of the stat, “that with our record and we shoot the lowest on open shots. That’s a good thing. We’re going to hit open shots eventually.”
Eventually seems to have arrived for Tatum and Irving. They’re both beginning to cook, and that only means good things for the future health of Boston’s offense. The players around Irving and Tatum will only benefit from their improved scoring.
There’s no hiding the fact that putting the ball through the basket has been a struggle for this group of Celtics through its first 13 games. That problem, however, may slowly be subsiding.
Piece by piece, the offense is gaining life.