Forsberg Four: How the Core Four have sparked Celtics' win streak

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Chris Forsberg
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Forsberg Four: How the Core Four have sparked C's win streak originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

As the Boston Celtics have slowly emerged from darkness of the health-and-safety woods, it feels like the team is finding a continuity and chemistry that it sorely lacked while riding a roller coaster for the first two-thirds of the season.

Boston has won five straight games and seven of its last eight overall. We’re not quite ready to proclaim that this team has found its way or that it has a surefire identity now, or that it is positioned to be a true contender when the playoffs start next month.

But there are a lot more reasons to be optimistic about where they are headed and what they might become. And it starts with the core members of this team settling into roles, all while better health delivers a more consistent supporting cast around them.

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For this week’s Forsberg Four -- watch the video version on a special Friday edition of Celtics Post Up -- we’re picking one number that showcases one area that a member of the team's Core Four -- Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, and Marcus Smart -- have done to aid this winning streak.

KEMBA WALKER: 29.5

That’s Kemba Walker’s assist percentage the last seven games. That’s up nearly 7 percent over his first 29 appearances of the season. Walker has at least six assists in each of his last eight games and the spike in his assist percentage has come with a corresponding dip in his usage rate (which has plummeted from 26.1 through 29 games, down to 20.3 over the last seven).

What does this suggest? Walker has seemingly gone all in on creating for his All-Star teammates and is putting a renewed focus on seeking better shots. His 3-point stroke is still spotty -- he missed 14 of 18 attempts against Portland and Denver -- but he’s been especially efficient attacking the basket (shooting an absurd 77 percent on all attempts at the rim, best among any point guard in the NBA).  Walker has even started sneaking into the corner for some easy 3-point looks, something that’s been a rarity during his career. His alterations have given the Celtics’ offense a major boost:

Kemba Walker this season … 

 

Off. Rating

Def. Rating

Net Rating

USG%

AST%

First 29 games

112.4

111

1.4

26.1

22.7

Last 7 games

122.3

109

13.3

20.3

29.5

The Celtics own an offensive rating of 122.3 in Walker’s 223 minutes of floor time in his last seven appearances. That number plummets to 107.3 in the 166 minutes he’s been off the court. 

More notable, Boston’s assist percentage is a sizzling 70.4 when Walker is on the floor in that seven-game span (and dips to 58.8 without him). Boston’s assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.07 with Walker and 1.35 without him. 

For all the talk about whether Walker was the ideal fit alongside the Jays, long term, because of his typically high usage rate and struggles to create as a playmaker, he’s quietly started to flip that narrative by embracing a facilitator role. If his 3-point shot starts falling, this version of Walker would be a particularly ideal fit alongside Tatum and Brown.

JAYSON TATUM: 88

That’s Tatum’s clutch-point total -- points scored with the game within 5 points in the final 5 minutes -- this season. It’s the ninth highest total in the NBA and fourth highest in the Eastern Conference behind only Chicago’s Zach LaVine, Brooklyn’s James Harden, and Atlanta’s Trae Young.

More jarring, it’s 26 points more than Boston's next closest clutch-time scorer (Brown, 62 points). In fact, Tatum has accounted for nearly one-third of Boston’s entire clutch-point output this season.

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The Celtics have had some better balance during this recent winning streak with Smart and Brown providing a clutch-time boost. Still, Tatum, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, hasn’t been bashful in big spots. He carried the Celtics throughout the second half and overtime during his 53-point binge against the Timberwolves, then hit a late-game dagger against the Trail Blazers.

Tatum has been spectacular in recent games but it’s those big moments that the Celtics need him to carry them most. Boston is a perfect 4-0 in recent clutch-time games (albeit, with the Lakers game triggering the criteria despite Boston’s reserves coughing up a 27-point lead).

MARCUS SMART: 41.9%

Smart’s Redemption Tour has been crisscrossing the country. Over the last eight games, opponents are shooting a mere 41.9 percent against him (39 of 93), which is a sizzling 4.1 percent below their expected field goal percentage, per the NBA’s tracking data.

More impressive is when you zoom in on the caliber of player that Smart has defended and their struggles against him. Some of his recent matchup highlights:

Opponent

Matchup Time

PTS

FG

TO

Damian Lillard

5:41

3

1-for-5

2

C.J. McCollum

2:55

0

0-for-2

0

Michael Porter Jr.

4:47

2

1-for-6

0

Karl Anthony Towns

1:48

8

3-for-7

2

Julius Randle

1:35

0

0-for-2

1

Derrick Rose

2:32

2

0-for-2

0

The Celtics’ defensive rating with Smart on the court hasn’t been stellar during this stretch but it’s hard to quibble with the way he’s embraced some particularly tough matchups. He routinely took on the challenge of defending Towns or Randle despite giving up size. He also briefly defended Nikola Jokic versus Denver, though the MVP favorite didn’t register a shot against him.

JAYLEN BROWN: 7.0

That’s how many first-quarter points Brown is averaging this season. If Tatum is the team's closer then Brown is the tone-setter. He ranks in the top 15 among all NBA scorers in the first quarter while shooting 48.6 percent from the floor and 43.4 percent beyond the 3-point arc. 

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Brown’s first-quarter output is particularly important for a Celtics team that hasn’t started games particularly well this year. It’s a noticeable dip to the next best first-quarter scorers (Walker at 4.9, Tatum at 4.7). Sort it by the raw numbers and the difference is even more glaring as Brown has scored 362 first-quarter points while the next closest is Tatum at 237. Brown is also tops on the team in first-quarter assists (68, tied with Smart). 

The Celtics are putting more offensive responsibility on Brown’s plate this season, especially now as Walker puts an emphasis on playmaking. Brown’s ability to set the tone -- whether it’s by making shots or simply drawing fouls with his aggression at the basket, is key to Boston ensuring it doesn’t fall into some of the early holes they’ve had to scramble out of during this winning streak.