Analysis: Celtics have an average victory margin that puts them in elite club

No team in NBA history has more wins than the Boston Celtics. No franchise has more championships than the Celtics, who are tied with the Los Angeles Lakers with 17 apiece. They built the dynasty of NBA dynasties with eight consecutive championship seasons spanning parts of the 1950s and 1960s; no other team has a streak even half that long.

They are synonymous with greatness.

Now consider this: This season’s Celtics are on pace to do something the franchise hasn’t done before. Even after blowing a 30-point lead and losing in Atlanta on Monday night, this team could finish the season as the most dominant, in terms of average victory margin, in Boston history.

The Celtics are outscoring opponents by 11.5 points per game, on pace to be the fifth-largest margin by any team in NBA history and more than a point better than any other Boston squad has ever managed. Think about that: Bill Russell wasn’t on a Celtics team that won games by this many points night-in and night-out, nor was Larry Bird, nor was John Havlicek, nor was Bob Cousy, nor was Kevin Garnett … and on and on and on.

“We’re not looking past anybody,” Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said a few weeks back. “We respect every opponent, regardless of national TV game, League Pass, their best player’s out … we approach every game the same way and we’re not looking past anybody.”

Thing is, they can, at least for the next few weeks.

The Celtics have wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Every other seed in the playoffs — on both sides of the league — remains still up for grabs, and only a complete sputtering down the stretch will cost Boston the No. 1 overall seed and home-court advantage for the entirety of the playoffs. Wasting a 30-point lead on Monday stings, sure, but it also happened in a game where the Celtics were without primary ballhandlers Jrue Holiday and Derrick White. It’s not a sign of trouble. It’s not a sign of anything. It just happened.

Odds are, they’ll come back and win when they play the Hawks again on Thursday, probably by a comfortable margin. The Celtics lead the NBA with 36 wins by double digits; that’s basically double the average of every other team in the league, and no other club entered Monday with more than 30 such wins.

Their longest losing streak of the season: two games. It’s happened twice, one of those in early November, the other earlier this month. Their record after losses is 12-2. They’ve had separate winning streaks of 11, nine, six, six, five and five games.

“We don’t talk about it much,” Tatum said. “We really just try to get better every single day. Sounds cliche and sounds boring, but maybe last year we rushed or looked past opponents and were just ready to get to the playoffs. But this year, we’ve really taken it one day at a time. Try to get better every day that we have practice or we have film sessions and look at every game as an opportunity to grow and get better as a team.”

Clinching the No. 1 seed was not cause of celebration for Boston. One, it’s been obvious for weeks that the Celtics would be atop this year’s East bracket and two, it wasn’t their goal. There’s only one goal for the Celtics and that’s to win it all, get banner No. 18, break the tie with the Lakers and move past some memories like losing a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals at home to Miami last year, watching Golden State celebrate a championship in Boston in 2022 or losing another East finals to Miami in the bubble in 2020.

Every other team in NBA history that finished a season with a scoring differential of at least 11.5 points per game won a championship: the 1971-72 Lakers (12.3-point differential per game), the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks (12.3), the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (12.2) and the 2016-17 Warriors (11.6).

They were dominant champions. These Celtics have a chance to join their ranks.

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Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org

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