In their last three games, the Celtics have looked a lot more like the 2018-19 team we expected to see before the season, with the C's picking up solid wins on the road vs star-studded Western Conference teams (Pelicans & Timberwolves), and smashing the dregs of the East at home (Cleveland).
So what's different between the team of the last three games and the .500 squad from the first 20? Their scorching hot offense is certainly a factor, but another statistical indicator that deserves monitoring is the percentage of opponents' three-point field goals the Celtics are contesting. During the first 20 games of the season, the C's contested 80% of opponents' threes, but in the last three games that number has jumped to 89%. For context, the Denver Nuggets lead the NBA with an 86% three-point contest rate.
One of the main reasons for the higher contest rate is the additional minutes Marcus Smart has received since entering the starting lineup. The Celtics' cyborg ninja is averaging 7.0 contested threes per game as a starter (Draymond Green leads the NBA with an average of 5.6), helping prove he is, in fact, a defensive alpha.
It's hard to say what the actual impact of the higher three-point contest rate is, as the Celtics' last three opponents have actually shot better from beyond the arc than their first 20 had, although they've taken fewer three-pointers. I believe a higher three-point contest rate is indicative of a more locked-in defense. The Celtics always try on defense, but their focus on that end was inconsistent during the first 20 games. Hopefully, the last three games are a sign of what the rest of the 2018-19 season will look like for the Celtics.
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