Celtics Display Integrity by Not Tanking

As the tie-breaker and Eastern Conference standings became clearer the past few weeks, there were really only two scenarios for the Celtics: 2nd or 3rd place in the conference. That alone is a masterful feat given how the first two months of the season went for the green. Most predicted they would finish between 4th and 7th in the conference and wouldn’t really be competing for the top 3 spots. After half the season, those predictions didn’t feel too far off as the Cs held a .500 team record. Luckily for the fans (and Ime Udoka), the Cs finished the season hotter than anyone in the NBA with a 51-31 overall record. Sitting with a few games remaining, the media surmised that the Cs had two choices: to win and take 2nd, potentially setting up a tough 1st round matchup with the 7-seed Brooklyn Nets (if they win the play-in game) or to tank and guarantee a 1st round series against the extremely beatable 6-seed Chicago Bulls. The Celtics chose to believe in themselves and pounded the Memphis Grizzlies in the final regular season game to secure 2nd in the Eastern Conference.

While I didn’t expect the Cs to tank, it’s not uncommon in the NBA for teams to rest stars knowing that the players on the court are going to have a tough time winning. Coaches hide behind the “rest day” or “maintenance day” mantra in those scenarios and while sometimes I’m sure it’s legitimate, it doesn’t feel great as a fan. Udoka, and probably Brad Stevens, made the right decision in my opinion to put their best team on the floor to try and win #51. Trying to control for a specific situation that isn’t even guaranteed is not a great approach.

You can run from teams, and they don’t even end up being there. What we concluded was: Let’s do what we do and let the chips fall where they may.

Celtics Head Coach Ime Udoka before Sunday’s regular season finale

This Celtics team isn’t, and shouldn’t be, afraid of anyone. Yes, the Nets would be a tougher matchup than the Bulls, but if this C’s team is so worried about a first round opponent that they would consider tanking to move down, then they have already lost. The play on the court matches the aspirations of this group: a deep playoff run. They’ve beaten the best teams in the NBA during this 2nd half stretch and based on all the coach and player comments after the game, they don’t care who is in front of them. If they really want to be playing into June, then they will need to beat some of the best teams in the league and frankly a higher seed could be more beneficial down the road. An easier path isn’t necessarily the best path.

The Cs performance against the Grizzlies in game #82 was perfectly representative. Memphis is 2nd in the Western Conference and a formidable opponent, despite their make-shift lineup with nothing to play for. The green didn’t take them lightly and rode a 72-pt first half performance to a 139-110 victory. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 49 points, while Al Horford dropped 13 on 75% shooting (6-8) and Daniel Theis had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. The Cs were able to bring 9 guys off the bench, all playing 5+ minutes and contributing with points, which was exactly what you want to see in the final game of the season. The loss of Time Lord, aka Robert Williams III, for at least some part of the playoffs isn’t ideal, but there is a lot to like about this team. They have depth, veteran leaders and a heart to match.

Now that the regular season is over, the Celtics have a full week to get some rest and prep for their first round opponent. On Tuesday night, we’ll know if it’s the Brooklyn Nets or the Cleveland Cavaliers and that winner will come to the TD Garden next Sunday as the Celtics tip-off what they hope will be a long and fruitful playoff run. Regardless of the outcome, the team’s decision to go out and play hard rather than tank is the right move in my book.

Hotter than Hot: The Boston Celtics Story

If you had told me in December that the Boston Celtics would be the hottest team in 2022 and look like serious championship contenders I would have laughed and told you to stop dreaming. The first 3 months of the season were in a word, uninspiring. The team was losing close games, blowing 4th quarter leads, and seemed to be completely lacking leadership and a fire to win. They were 17-19 when 2021 turned to 2022 and it certainly seemed like the Ime Udoka coaching tenure in Boston would not be a long one. To be fair, there were lots of injury and COVID issues, but even with a depleted roster at times the team was vastly under performing. Then January came and a switch flipped.

In 2022, the Celtics are 29-9 and have improved consistently since January. On January 7th, the Celtics were in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with an 18-21 record, only ahead of the Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, and Orlando Magic. They were 1 game behind the New York Knicks and 9 games back of 1st place in the conference, with a +1 scoring differential. Since that day, the Celtics are 28-7, have increased their scoring differential to be the best in the East at +6.6, and are tied with the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks just 1 game behind the Miami Heat (the C’s have played 2 more games than the 76ers and Bucks, so have a slightly lower win percentage). Even more impressively, they are 23-4 since January 23rd and are showing no signs of slowing down with 8 games to go.

The starters are hot, the bench players are hot and the coaching and leadership has been spot on. It’s hard to argue that there is a tougher team in the league to play right now and if they continue to play this well going into the playoffs, the sky is the limit. It’s absolutely cliche and absolutely accurate in this scenario. The consistent high-level of play right now allows them to match up with anyone, because you try to shut one player down, another will beat you. The depth of the roster is really showing as a strength right now. The Cs have size and strength inside, talented scorers and defenders at the guard position and talented wing players who can pose serious mis-match problems for opponents. Oh yeah, and they have one of the best players in basketball right now in Jayson Tatum who can drop 50 on a night when the team needs him to dominate. It feels like Tatum and Jaylen Brown have stepped up as leaders on and off the court and have led by example, which has been huge.

It’s a great time to be a fan of the green. The keys down the stretch? Stay healthy, keep playing at a high-level, and get as close to the top seed in the Eastern Conference as possible. Simple, right?

Making Sense of the Celtics Roster

As the NBA preseason is upon us and the season begins in just a few short weeks, it’s a good time to make heads and tails of the Boston Celtics roster after an extremely busy offseason. Several key players have been shipped elsewhere and many new faces will be donning the green and gold for the first time in 2021. Let’s take an in-depth look at the Cs roster and make a prediction or two along the way.

One of the biggest impacts on the roster, although not surprising, was the exit of G Kemba Walker in a trade with the New York Knicks. He was joined earlier this offseason by former Celtic Evan Fournier and now on opening night, the Cs will have to face their former teammates at Madison Square Garden. Walker’s chronic knee issues made it difficult for him to ever have the impact on the Celtics everyone expected and it felt like he spent as much time not playing as he did suiting up. I had high hopes for his Cs tenure, but now he has a fresh start in the building he dominated as a member of the UConn Huskies.

With the absence of Kemba, the Celtics needed to add to their guard depth this offseason and they did by bringing in G Josh Richardson and G Dennis Schroder. Schroder is a fascinating get because he wrongly bet on his value on the open market and turned down a big option with the Los Angeles Lakers. His salary is a steal and I believe he will be motivated to prove himself and earn back the big money contract, which only helps the Cs. Richardson and Schroder join returnees G Marcus Smart, G Payton Pritchard, G/F Jaylen Brown, G/F Aaron Nesmith, and G/F Romeo Langford as backcourt players on the roster. The Cs also brought in young guards Theo Pinson and Garrison Mathews and 3-year veteran Ryan Arcidiacono, although I’m not sure if any of the latter group will make the roster.

In the front court, the Celtics parted ways with C/F Tristan Thompson who was generally a huge disappointment in his short time with the team. There weren’t a lot of career highlights while wearing the green jersey and with the rise of Robert Williams and the return of C/F Al Horford and C Enes Kanter, there wasn’t a spot for him on the roster. The Cs also brought in F Juancho Hernangomez who probably has the edge on a roster spot, while C/F Bruno Fernando, F Sam Hauser, and F Juwan Morgan will need to really compete to be on the final 15. The new guys join F Grant Williams and F Jayson Tatum as a pretty solid group. One storyline I’m interested in watching closely this year is whether Al Horford can return to form and be an important piece of the roster. He struggled significantly in Philadelphia, but by all accounts loves Boston and is really excited to be back.

While there are certainly mixed feelings on this Celtics roster, I think the X-factor addition this offseason was head coach Ime Udoka. By all accounts he is a well-respected coach who will want this team to be tough and fierce on the court like his personality and that identity could really help this team in 2021. I don’t know if the Celtics got markedly better on paper this offseason, but they have a bunch of guys that have the potential to lift this team in the standings and make them better than some think. A motivated Schroder can distribute the ball and Richardson can find his shot in order to compliment Brown and Tatum, while an improved front court can take some pressure off and make them a better team overall. If they can gain a toughness from Udoka, this team could have a really solid season.

Bold Prediction

5th Place in the Eastern Conference, 46-36

I think many analysts are too low on the Celtics this year. They certainly aren’t nearly as good as the top teams in the conference, the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks, and are at least a tick below the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks, but I think they can be better than the Philadelphia 76ers with their Ben Simmons drama. That puts them in the 5th spot in the Eastern Conference for me, although I actually think they could sneak into 4th if everything went perfectly (or things went poorly for other teams). On the flip side, I wouldn’t be shocked if they dropped to 7th or 8th, where many others have them pegged. There are so many X-factors that we have yet to see play out with several new pieces and a new coach, but why not be more optimistic at this point in the year?

Trader Brad: The Beginning of the Stevens Era

The move to hire Brad Stevens as the next Boston Celtics GM was a surprise. Danny Ainge stepping away at the beginning of June wasn’t too surprising, but promoting the 44-year old Indiana-native to that role opened up a ton of questions about his experience and ability to jump into that role when the roster needed some work right away. Now two months into his job, he’s been active on the trade market and appears to be working toward a larger vision with more moves in the pipeline.

After 6 years as an assistant coach at Butler, Stevens took over the head coaching role in 2007. He was successful at getting the most out of his players at a strong mid-major college program with two back-to-back NCAA Finals appearances (2010 lost to Duke and 2011 lost to UConn) which led to NBA teams sniffing around. In 2013, the Celtics convinced him to leave the college coaching life in his home state and take over one of the most successful NBA franchises in history.

In his 8 years at the helm of the Celtics, Stevens had a .557 winning percentage and won NBA Coach of the Month three times. He took the Celtics into the playoffs in 7 of his 8 years and to the conference finals three times, but couldn’t break through for a title. After a disappointing 2020-2021 season, the critics were calling for his job and wondering if he could take the next step. Then Danny Ainge stepped aside.

After hiring Ime Udoka as the next Celtic’s head coach, Brad Stevens got to work on the roster. He started by trading former UConn star G Kemba Walker and the 16th pick in this year’s draft to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Celtics fan-favorite C/F Al Hortford, C Moses Brown and a 2023 second round pick. The Celtics needed to move on from Walker, but the trade got mixed reviews despite being primarily a salary dump. Celtics fans liked the idea of having Horford back, but what does he have left in the tank? Moses Brown would be a nice pickup, but has already been shipped off as part of another trading frenzy.

Next, Brad shipped out mostly disappointing C/PF Tristan Thompson for Providence product and long-time crush of Celtics fans G Kris Dunn, C Bruno Fernando, and a 2nd round 2023 pick from the Atlanta Hawks. Then he flipped the previously traded for C Moses Brown to the Dallas Mavericks for veteran G Josh Richardson.

There are a lot of rumors floating around that Brad is far from done. Even though Celtics fans have wanted to see Kris Dunn in the green since he was drafted two spots behind Jaylen Brown in 2016, Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach has been reporting that the Cs are looking to move Kris Dunn to save some cap space just days after he was shipped to Boston. The other rumors surround a bunch of former C’s players and potential returns. I’m guessing Stevens is on the phone non-stop at this point trying to make a few more moves to free up some cap room to replace G/F Evan Fournier.

Only time will tell what Stevens will be like as a GM, but he’s started with a lot of trade activity and more to come. He’s certainly not afraid to make a move.