Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Celtics 117, Bulls 92: Time to take stock of this team

Rob Bradford
December 24, 2017 - 8:09 am

Even in his second language, Daniel Theis did a pretty good job of supplying his team's mission statement following the Celtics' blowout win over the Bulls Saturday night.

"Tonight we just had to come out and play and just be the best version of us," Theis said after the Celts' 117-92 win over Chicago. (For a complete recap, click here.)

And so they did, showing that version is pretty darn good.

You can pick through how the Celtics snapped an uncomfortable two-game losing streak, sliding optimism back toward their side of things. Kyrie Irving was once again really, really good, and he actually got some help from his friends, with seven of Brad Stevens' guys scoring in double-figures.

But with the Celtics' recent downturn, and now this surge of hope, it seems like a good time to gather the family, take a deep breath, perhaps drink a little egg nog and try and figure out how good this team actually is. After all, Christmas is always a good place to stock of things in the midst of an NBA season.

The Celtics still sit atop the Eastern Conference at 27-9, 1 1/2 games in front of both Toronto and Cleveland. Heading into their Christmas Day game last season, they were 17-13, and by the time they had played 36 games the mark was 22-14.

It should be noted, however, that the Celtics only got better after their 36th game, suffering just one three-game losing streak (which was followed by a seven-game win streak), while dropping back-to-back regular season games only three times prior to the postseason.

Record aside, this year's edition does feel better than a year ago. And Saturday night only pushed that narrative along.

Irving is doing what Isaiah Thomas did for the 2016-17 team, score a lot every single night. The point guard is averaging 24.9 points per game, having netted less than 16 points just once. And then there are the other offensive options that it didn't feel like the Celtics possessed last holiday season, such as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, who are averaging 14.7 and 13.8 points per game, respectively.

Sure, a year ago the Celtics had a player in Avery Bradley who could offer similar offensive results, but his ability to create wasn't on par of what the current duo can offer. Brown put that reality on display once again in scoring 20 against the Bulls.

But where Danny Ainge managed to take this team to another level has been inside the paint. Last season, the Celtics finished 28th overall in rebounding, while this time around they sit at 14th-best. And while Jonas Jerebko and Kelly Olynyk each recently torched their former team recent, the presence of Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis and Marcus Morris scratch where the Celts itch a whole lot better this time around.

The idea of a player grabbing 15 rebounds in 24 minutes, like Theis did Saturdy night, didn't seem like a possibility on a team starting Amir Johnson at center.

The Celtics have the most wins of any team in the NBA, which always a nice feather in the cap while being highlighted on your home court on Christmas Day. But there is a long way to go. The Cavs are only going to get better thanks to Thomas' return, and Toronto is surging via a six-game win streak.

It's a good start, and we can easily suggest this is a better team than a year ago. Now comes the true test, one which a less talented club passed with gusto last season.

JBL Audio Stat of the Game: The Celtics held Chicago to 92 points, marking the 20th time this season that Boston has held its opponent to less than 100 points (leads NBA).

 JBL is the Official Sound of Jayson Tatum, The Boston Celtics, and the NBA.

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