What to make of the Boston Celtics’ disappointing season

What to make of the Boston Celtics’ disappointing season

Early within the 2020-21 NBA season, the Boston Celtics performed a two-week stretch of basketball throughout which they gained seven out of the eight video games they performed. The stiffness of their competitors all through that span different considerably, however the workforce appeared to have entered a groove. Boston’s victories got here regardless of lacking a key offensive cog in Kemba Walker, and gave hope to the notion that the Celtics could possibly go final postseason’s heights regardless of shedding Gordon Hayward in free company.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown appeared to have ascended to superstardom. The duo mixed for 54.1 factors, 13.1 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 2.9 steals, and 1.3 blocks throughout these eight video games, whereas capturing 52.2% from the sphere and a scorching sizzling 46.7% from past the arc. The Celtics’ precocious wings have continued to compile spectacular (although barely much less so) statistics, however the workforce has largely upset all through the total length of the season.

Boston is at present 24-25, touchdown them eighth within the Eastern Conference. The Celtics’ place throughout the standings isn’t fairly so dire because it may appear at first blush. There is a glut of mediocrity under the East’s high three groups, and Boston is simply 1.5 video games behind the fourth seeded Charlotte Hornets who’ve misplaced Gordon Hayward for at the very least a month and LaMelo Ball for almost certainly the remainder of the season. However, to have a shedding report this deep into the yr is a disappointment regardless.

Players, coaches, entrance workplace workers, and followers have all expressed their frustration with the Celtics’ inconsistent efficiency. The angst surrounding the workforce is tethered to expectations based mostly in previous success. Boston has reached the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the final 4 years. But the present roster isn’t the identical groups that made these runs. Gone are Hayward, Kyrie Irving, and Al Horford, a trio that sports a mixed 13 All-Star appearances, and it’s not simply the top-end expertise that has been drained from the Celtics’ coffers in recent times. Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes, and Enes Kanter all loved stints in Boston as useful position gamers.


Toronto Raptors v Boston Celtics

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The Celtics have tried to draft and develop supplemental expertise, however solely Robert Williams has emerged as an actual rotation contributor (shoutout to Payton Pritchard who seems to be headed in that course as effectively). Beyond its dearth of homegrown contributors and till a current commerce for Evan Fournier, the Celtics have added only one participant of actual significance to exchange all the above, Kemba Walker, who was acquired through sign-and-trade final offseason. The jitterbug level guard has struggled with knee points for the reason that center of final yr, and continues to be working his approach again to creating a major affect within the present season.

All of this was well-established heading into the present marketing campaign. With Walker sidelined to start out the yr and paper skinny depth with a bench made up of first and second yr gamers, a dip in efficiency was predictable, however the Celtics early-season success eschewed considerations concerning the long-term depletion of their roster. Even those that did foresee a regression probably didn’t anticipate fairly such a sizeable step backward. Dipping under .500 is one thing of a worst case state of affairs (non-serious harm version) for Boston.

Boston Celtics v Washington Wizards

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The Celtics have been a multitude for almost all of the yr. Their offense is stagnant, and their protection disconnected. Effort waxes and wanes, and much too typically the workforce must construct a double digit deficit earlier than they discover the inspiration to play with any kind of drive and tempo on both finish of the court docket. Theories as to what’s driving the Celtics sluggishness abound.

Some blame Brad Stevens, who for the primary time in his profession seems to have misplaced the flexibility to coax each final drip of defensive potential out of his roster. Stevens deserves some criticism for Boston’s lapses in focus and lack of ability to execute a fundamental recreation plan, however he’s additionally been burdened with an inexperienced roster and virtually no follow time as the results of a shortened season in gentle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those who grant Stevens a go could also be inclined to level the finger on the Celtics’ entrance workplace. They’ve accomplished little to handle a multi-year expertise drain, failed to provide many significant contributors throughout a bevy of draft picks, and constructed a roster full of utmost limitations. Until it’s commerce deadline strikes, Boston was gentle on guards and wing gamers that would dribble or go, and featured a logjam of facilities.

Stevens’ dedication to taking part in two facilities at a time – an method that severely restricted his workforce’s offensive potential – was largely a results of having too few perimeter choices he may belief. There’s solely a lot a coach can do with a workforce that has as few gamers succesful facilitating offense because the Celtics have, a number of of whom have been injured for prolonged stretches all year long.


Atlanta Hawks v Boston Celtics

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Boston has had an unimaginable variety of gamers miss time with a wide range of maladies and within the NBA’s COVID well being and security protocols. The groups presumed finest lineup heading into the yr of Walker, Brown, Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Daniel Theis performed simply 163 non-garbage-time possessions collectively earlier than Theis was traded away final week, per Cleaning the Glass. That identical group with Robert Williams III swapped in for Theis – Boston’s new beginning lineup – has performed simply 70 non-garbage-time possessions.

Those are miniscule pattern sizes, that lend credence to the notion that Celtics’ general efficiency for the yr is way from the ceiling of Boston’s present assortment of expertise. But the Celtics aren’t alone in coping with accidents and losses as a result of COVID. Teams all through the NBA have been pummeled on each fronts, and a scarcity of choices isn’t accountable for Boston’s persistently flat vitality. That lies with each gamers and the teaching workers.

Blown defensive rotations, lack of motion on offense, and sluggish tempo are all issues that may be corrected even when a workforce is with out its full complement of gamers. Doing so requires a spotlight and dedication that the Celtics haven’t displayed with any consistency. Those issues are simpler to return by when a workforce is taking part in a joyful, successful model of basketball.

Dallas Mavericks v Boston Celtics

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The frustration of shedding may be compounding with the emotional and psychological toll of the continuing pandemic to a level that Boston merely isn’t able to dealing with as a workforce, to not point out the bodily toll it has taken on the Celtics’ finest participant.

Tatum hasn’t seemed totally himself since contracting the virus again in early January. He’s nonetheless an extremely constructive drive for Boston, however he’s been gradual and disengaged at occasions. Whether or not that’s the results of ongoing restoration or just manifestation of frustration with how the season has performed out is one thing solely he’ll know for sure, however Tatum doesn’t at present look the a part of one of the best participant on a championship contender.

And he in all probability shouldn’t be anticipated to be simply but. It’s exceedingly uncommon {that a} title workforce has a finest participant his age. In truth, simply thrice for the reason that ABA/NBA merger has a participant 22 or youthful been even arguably one of the best participant on a workforce that gained a championship. Magic Johnson was 20 years previous when the Los Angeles Lakers gained a title in his rookie yr on the age of 20. He occurred to be paired with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the time. The different occasion got here through the Spurs, when Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard gained Finals MVP honors on the age of twenty-two in 1999 and 2014 respectively.

Tatum is nice sufficient that some day it could be honest to count on him to lift the extent of his workforce to competitiveness evening after evening, however this yr – at his age, coping with COVID and given his surrounding expertise – shouldn’t be the time to carry him to such a normal. His play being merely nice reasonably than otherworldly is nonetheless a motive why the Celtics aren’t acting at a better degree. Everyone else deserves to take a portion of that blame as effectively. No one is sort of locked in sufficient on protection, and apart from Jaylen Brown, the whole workforce has been performing barely under expectations on the offensive finish.

There is a commonality throughout all of the potential causes for Boston’s struggles this yr. Almost all the things that has gone incorrect has had a reasonably affordable clarification as to why. To the optimist, they’re merely a string of unlucky occasions which have sunk the season to this point. To the pessimist, they’re excuses for slew of poor organizational choices and a coach who has misplaced the ear of his locker room. The reality, as at all times, probably lives someplace in between.

Something clearly isn’t proper in Boston, however the Celtics demise has been overstated by probably the most unfavorable of observers. The the rest of the yr will go a good distance towards revealing simply how a lot floor must be made up earlier than Boston has the look of a contender once more. Feel free to construct your opinion on the matter nevertheless you see match. There is not any scarcity of variables in play to assemble a case.