The 20-5 Celtics are traveling to California for a four-game road trip at the end of December… sound familiar?
Through 25 games, the Boston Celtics are 20-5 and facing a four-game West Coast trip. Last season, the Celtics were 20-5 through 25 games and faced a similar road trip. They went 2-2 and proceeded to lose their first three home games upon their return to TD Garden.
Things are obviously different this time around. The Celtics are riding a five-game win streak at home (though they had recently won five in a row at home last year, too). And more importantly, this is not the same team as last year’s.
With Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis in the fold, the Celtics have transformed their roster and how they play on both sides of the ball.
While their three-point-heavy offense remains similar, a healthy dose of post-ups and an emphasis on offensive rebounding have provided a fresh look. And defensively, the Celtics have moved on from any specific coverage. They’ve mixed it up on a game-to-game basis, rolling with drop coverage, switching to a switch-everything, and employing Holiday, Porzingis, and others in a free-safety role when the matchup calls for it.
All of this has led to their early-season success, but now they face the point in the season where last year’s team failed. Instead of rolling their domination over into the second half of the season, they folded.
And it all started out west.
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Boston begins their road trip this season against the Golden State Warriors, who have dealt with their own struggles. Draymond Green won’t be available as he continues to serve his indefinite suspension, and Steve Kerr has tested out some different lineups in his absence.
The emergence of rookie Brandin Podziemski and Jonathan Kuminga’s continued growth has earned them extra playing time, especially while Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins continue to struggle.
The Celtics may have exiled their Warriors demons with an overtime win this past January, but the memories of the 2022 Finals still exist. Golden State stomped the Celtics on this same road trip last year.
Next up, Boston will take on the Sacramento Kings for Night Two of a back-to-back following their tilt with Golden State.
Despite some offseason doubters, the Kings have largely maintained the success they found last year. De’Aaron Fox has put up MVP-caliber numbers this season, and Keegan Murray just nailed 12 threes en route to a 47-point performance against the Utah Jazz.
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Sacramento’s offense will provide the Celtics’ defense with a test – similar to the one they failed against the Indiana Pacers earlier in the season – but Boston has played the Kings well as of late. In fact, they haven’t lost to Sacramento since March 19, 2021, when Richaun Holmes and Buddy Hield helped lead the charge.
After that, the Celtics get a couple of days off before taking on the red-hot LA Clippers, who have found their footing after some early struggles with James Harden now in the fold.
The Clippers are on an eight-game win streak, including impressive wins over the Warriors (twice), Denver Nuggets, Kings, and New York Knicks.
In that time, Kawhi Leonard has stepped up as the primary scorer, James Harden has accepted a playmaking-first position, and Russell Westbrook has transitioned into a bench role.
The Clippers will be a challenge for the Celtics, but their offensive game has a chance to shred through the drop coverage LA plays with Ivica Zubac in the back.
But none of the three prior games compare to the Celtics’ Christmas Day matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been carrying the load this season, highlighted by an In-Season Tournament championship, but for the Celtics, this game is more than just the end of their road trip.
The Celtics-Lakers rivalry is one of the best in sports, and considering they only play each other twice a year, each matchup is a big one. Add in the amplification of Christmas, and this isn’t a game either team will want to lose.
Boston is just 6-5 on the road this year, but with a 5-0 homestand behind them, they have a chance to right the ship. But this road trip goes beyond that narrative.
This year’s squad feels different from last year. The connectivity, the maturity, and the willingness to sacrifice are taking center stage both on and off the court. Their five-game homestand brought those facts to life, but now, the Celtics have to double down.
Their 14-0 record at TD Garden is impressive, but they only get to play half their games there. And in the playoffs, winning on the road is often the biggest battle.
Last season, when posed with this same exact test at the same exact time, the Celtics failed. And once they returned home, their failures followed.
Now, they have a chance to make up for their shortcomings from last regular season. This trip to California will speak volumes about who this Celtics team is.