Monday marked the one-year anniversary of the Boston Celtics igniting a 2022 second-half surge that propelled them to the NBA Finals. Over the 82 games starting with that Jan. 23, 2022 win in Washington, Boston posted a 63-19 record for a staggering .768 winning percentage.
We’re cheating here because Boston’s dominance spans two different seasons but only five teams in franchise history posted better 82-game seasons. And four of them won NBA titles. (The 1973 Celtics posted a franchise-best 68-14 mark, but lost in the Eastern Conference finals).
So if you need a little bit of a palate cleanser after the Celtics endured their head-slapping third loss of the season to the Orlando Magic on Monday night, take a step back and embrace the majesty of the previous 365 days.
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The 2022-23 Celtics -- Magic matchups notwithstanding -- have established themselves as the best team in basketball. Not only does Boston own the best record in the NBA, but it has a four-game cushion over its nearest East rival, which eases the occasional stumble against an inferior opponent.
It’s still wild how much can change in a year’s span. Before Jayson Tatum's 51-point outburst lit Boston’s fuse against the Wizards last year, the biggest moment from the 2021-22 season had been Joe Johnson scoring a trash-time basket for the COVID-ravaged Celtics.
The first half of last season featured hot takes on whether Tatum and Jaylen Brown could truly thrive together and much handwringing over coach Ime Udoka’s firm words for his inconsistent team. In between it all, we watched guys like Evan Fournier have improbable revenge games while the Celtics lingered three games under .500 and sat outside the play-in bracket near the midpoint of last season.
Fast forward to the present and things are a lot different. The Jays are thriving individually and as a pair. Tatum is an MVP favorite, Brown has played at an All-NBA level, which could open the door to a long-term extension this summer. Brad Stevens has constructed a deep, championship-caliber roster. Joe Mazzulla has dutifully steered the ship forward after an Udoka scandal threatened to send things sideways before the start of the new season.
We now fill time wondering things like, do the Celtics have to make a move to strengthen the ninth man on their roster because Sam Hauser has slumped after a blistering start to the season?
Yes, things are pretty good in Celtics Land. We can fret about Tatum’s minutes total and the left wrist injury that has nagged him for nearly a full year now. We can worry about how Boston hasn’t always responded well against teams with size and physicality.
Alas, Boston is an NBA-best 17-5 versus teams above .500. A year after struggling mightily in crunch-time situations, the Celtics are 15-5 in that situation (score within five points in the final five minutes) this year, the second-best mark in the league behind only the Nets.
We’ll continue to obsess about the roster, even if it feels like any addition would largely be to help pace the team to the finish line of the regular season. The team still has enough assets to make a bit of a splurge, maybe adding a playoff-ready wing to limit the overall wear and tear on the Jays, or seeking a big that can help ensure Al Horford and Robert Williams III stay upright.
But even in the absence of a move, the Celtics project to have a sturdy eight-man playoff rotation. Additional depth might be a luxury, but insurance wouldn’t be the worst idea for a team that’s routinely had to deal with injuries at inopportune times.
Few could have envisioned how the last 365 days have played out. The Celtics had a lot of question marks this time last year, even as they started to launch. Stevens quietly made an eyebrow-raising move at the deadline by acquiring Derrick White and eliminated much of Boston’s roster clutter, which aided the team’s rise.
Now Stevens might be looking for the final pieces of this puzzle. Maybe that’s as simple as scooping the best available body off the buyout scrap heap. Maybe it means being a bit more aggressive with the Celtics firmly entrenched as a title favorite.
The past year has been filled with success. But coming up short in the Finals continues to drive the 2022-23 version of this club. You don’t hang banners for the success of a team between January and January.
The story of these Celtics will be whether they were able to make progress from June to June.