BOSTON – During Boston's 16-game winning streak earlier this season, the Celtics were challenged in many ways.
But no team put them on the brink of defeat during that span like the Dallas Mavericks who had the Celtics in comeback mode late in the game before Boston ultimately rallied for a 110-102 overtime win behind Kyrie Irving's season-high 47 points.
Since that game on Nov. 20, Boston (21-4) has been able to continue rolling along and remains at the top of the NBA standings.
And it seems that loss did a lot of good for the Mavericks as well.
At the time of the loss, it dropped Dallas' record to 3-15.
Since then, they've won four of their last six games and are starting to slowly but surely play better, more consistent basketball.
Following that loss, Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle could sense his team's turnaround was coming sooner rather than later.
"It was a very, very tough loss, no question about that," Carlisle said at the time. "We can't shake our heads."
Carlisle added, "We got to keep moving forward. We're making progress. We just aren't putting the kind of wins on the board that we feel we can. The only thing that can short-circuit us from more progress is to take our eye off the ball in terms of making more progress. If we stay in that process, we will win our share of games."
One of the keys to Dallas' improved play since the loss to Boston has been their defense.
Overall, Dallas' defensive rating in the last six games is 79.1 which ranks ninth in the NBA during that span. They have also limited the impact of opposing teams generating easy points off turnovers.
In the last six games, the Mavericks have allowed just 11.2 points off turnovers which ranks second in the NBA in that span.
And while their defense has improved of late, Boston counters with a much more robust offense.
In the Celtics' last six games (five of which they won), Boston is shooting 52 percent from the field which is second in the league. The Celtics have also knocked down 43.4 percent of their 3-pointers which ranks third in the league, a statistic that has been fueled in part by the play of rookie Jayson Tatum who is making a league-best 51.3 percent of his 3's this season while shooting 59.1 percent (13-for-22) in Boston's last six games.
The improved shooting has elevated Boston's offensive rating of late to near the top of the NBA standings.
In Boston's last six games, the Celtics have an offensive rating of 115.8 which is second in the league.
Despite showing a high level of consistency in terms of winning games, we are seeing a Celtics team that's changing before our very eyes, one that's showing a far more explosive side offensively than we saw at the start of the season and to a large degree, during their 16-game winning streak as well.
From where they were at the start of the season, Al Horford will be the first to admit that the Celtics are indeed a different team.
"As a group, we've grown tremendously in very little time," Horford said. "And I feel we have a lot more to do, more growing to do."