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Chasing History: Where 2023-24 Celtics stand among best teams ever

Chasing History: Where 2023-24 Celtics stand among best teams ever originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Surely, you've heard of the 40-20 rule: the Phil Jackson suggestion that a team must win 40 games before registering its 20th loss to be considered a true championship contender.

Well, the 2023-24 Celtics just triggered the more obscure 60-20 rule.

Boston ensured itself the best record in basketball — and home-court advantage throughout the duration of its playoff run — after racing away from the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night at TD Garden. The Celtics are now 60-16 on the season and the only question over their final six regular-season games is just where the team will slot among some of the more historic regular-season juggernauts of all time.

If we’re being honest, we didn’t need 40-20 or 60-20 or any metric to know the Celtics were legitimate contenders. Most everyone knew the Celtics were going to be in the mix before the season even tipped off. The additions of Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday only strengthened Boston’s top-end talent and, sure it helps to see it on the court, but it always felt like this team had 60-win potential.

Now they’ve proven it. And the only drama over the final two weeks of the regular season will hinge on exactly where these Celtics will slot in the history books.

A few things we’ll be keeping our eyes on:

Slotting among the greats in point differential

The Celtics posted their 16th win by 25+ points on Wednesday night, setting a new NBA record for wins by that margin. The 1970-71 Bucks, 1971-72 Bucks, and 2015-16 Spurs all did it 15 times.

All those lopsided wins have slotted the Celtics among some of the best teams in NBA history in point differential. In fact, with six games to go, the Celtics find themselves nestled between two of the most dominant teams of the past 30 years in the 1996 Bulls and 2017 Warriors.

The Celtics almost certainly will finish in the top five all time but the interest is whether they can stay in front of the Warriors, or even potentially catch those Bulls (though that would require some finish-line domination).

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Point differential is a fluky stat. But the fact that the Celtics could become only the sixth team in NBA history to outscore their opponent by 900+ points in a season is a remarkable feat on its own.

Boston could slot anywhere near two of the most dominant teams in NBA history in those '96 Bulls and 2017 Warriors. That's lofty company.

Four for fourth

The 2023-24 Celtics became the 14th squad in team history to reach 60 wins. With at least four more wins, this year’s team would enter some rarified air among the best regular-season teams in franchise history.

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There's still a chance the Celtics could match the 2008 Celtics with 66 wins, though with the best record in the NBA secured, it seems likely the team will downshift at times over the final six games.

With at least three wins, the 2024 Celtics will finish with the fourth best record in team history. With four wins, they’ll own that spot outright.

The 1986 and 2008 Celtics teams are widely regarded as the two best teams in franchise history, particularly because they both went on to raise a banner. So much of how the 2024 Celtics will be remembered hinges on what happens from mid-April to mid-June, but there’s an opportunity to really distinguish themselves among some of the most successful teams in franchise history before that.

Best offense in the play-by-play era

Amid a season in which offensive production has exploded league-wide, the Celtics are positioned to obliterate the NBA record for offensive efficiency.

The Celtics currently top the NBA in offensive rating while scoring 122.6 points per 100 possessions. That mark is a staggering four points higher than Sacramento’s record-breaking season in 2022-23.

The NBA might have an entire new top five based on the ridiculous offensive numbers this season, but Boston has the potential to really set a lofty new bar in the play-by-play era.

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Lapping the field

The Celtics sit a staggering 13 games up on the Bucks with a chance to finish the season with one of the most lopsided leads over the second-place finisher in the modern era. Remember, too, that the Celtics and Bucks have another head-to-head meeting next week.

The 2012-13 Heat, 2005-06 Pistons, and 1995-96 Bulls all finished 12 games ahead of their nearest competitor in the East for the biggest standings differential since 1980. You’d have to rewind to 1976 to find the last team to have a larger margin (Warriors, 16 games atop the nine-team Western Conference).

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