x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Into unknown territory

Celtics say their season is over, but young guns still putting up a fight, writes Steve Dilbeck.

Jared Sullinger, left, and Brandon Bass have been turning heads this season. Jared Wickerham / Getty Images
Jared Sullinger, left, and Brandon Bass have been turning heads this season. Jared Wickerham / Getty Images

The Boston line-up is perhaps the most anonymous in the NBA, which is no small thing in this season of faceless rosters.

They have a rookie NBA coach who looks like he should still be a student at Butler University, where he was coaching a year ago.

They are playing without four of their top five scorers from last season, trading away three. They did not add a player of significance.

Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Doc Rivers, the coach, have all left the club and the point guard Rajon Rondo is still sidelined by injury, but the Celtics are the surprise leaders of the NBA’s Atlantic Division.

It is faint praise, to an extent; the Atlantic is the NBA’s weakest division and the Celtics have won only 10 of 22 games. But they have won three in succession and are surprisingly competitive for a team thought to be intent on finishing in the draft lottery.

Brad Stevens, 37, has made the Celtics into a defensive force. Opponents are scoring 96.9 points per game; only six of 30 teams in the league allow fewer points.

“We’re making shots, being aggressive and executing out there,” said Jeff Green, the forward.

With the trade of Garnett and Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets for three first-round draft picks and a collection of lesser players, Green has become the club’s leading scorer, albeit at a relatively modest 16.6 points per game.

The former reserves Jordan Crawford (13.9 points, 5.4 assists), Jared Sullinger (13.4 points, 7.0 rebounds), Avery Bradley (13.1) and Brandon Bass (11.5 points, 5.9 rebounds) have otherwise led the surge.

They managed enough offence on Sunday to rout the New York Knicks 114-73 in Madison Square Garden, the most lopsided game of the season. It left a struggling Knicks team red-faced.

“What Boston came in here and did was an embarrassment,” the Knicks star Carmelo Anthony said. But it was not a surprise.

The Celtics all but announced they were giving up on the current season when they traded their old stars for the three first-round picks, adding a fourth from the Los Angeles Clippers when Rivers jumped to LA. But Boston’s plans for the future have not kept the players of the present from competing and contending.

“People know each other better and we take it upon ourselves to get others involved,” Crawford said.

They play well together, seem to be improving and are the sort of overachievers fans come to love. Plus, Rondo is expected back from his knee surgery shortly. Celtics executives may find it difficult to turn this into a lost season.

sports@thenational.ae