The start of the Boston Celtics 2020-21 season is finally upon us, as the Milwaukee Bucks come to the TD Garden to get the season underway Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. After last season ended at the hands of the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, general manager Danny Ainge was hard at work putting together a new roster for this season. The biggest loss, of course, was Gordon Hayward going to the Charlotte Hornets on a four-year contract. Despite rumors of a potential deal with the Indiana Pacers centered around Myles Turner, Hayward cashed out and landed in North Carolina, and Boston only received a massive trade exception in return.
In the draft, the Celtics addressed two real needs: shooting and a backup point guard. Aaron Nesmith is a pure sniper the likes of which this team has not had in years, as he shot 52% on 3 pointers in an injury-shortened final season at Vanderbilt last year. Payton Pritchard, drafted out of Oregon, averaged 20.5 points per game and 5.5 assists in his last season in college, and has been drawing high praise for his play in training camp from his coaches and teammates.
The Celtics will be starting the year pretty short-handed, so they will rely on contributions from their free agent signings and rookies, as well as development from players already on the roster. Star point guard Kemba Walker will be out until at least the middle of January due to the knee issues that plagued him before last season’s stoppage and in the bubble. Losing an All-Star caliber point guard is never easy, so Nesmith and Pritchard will definitely have to contribute early on. However, they will have help picking up the slack from Jeff Teague and Tristan Thompson, who both signed with the Celtics this offseason. Teague in particular had a great first preseason game to show that he can still be a productive player after struggling last season. Thompson, known for his toughness and energy, can fill the role of a bigger Marcus Smart on this team, which will certainly help. However, he will be limited to start the season as he deals with a hamstring injury, but coach Brad Stevens says that he’s hopeful Thompson will be ready for Wednesday’s game.
As for making up the rest of Walker’s production while he is out, most of it will fall onto the ready shoulders of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. After two seasons in a sidekick role, Tatum took a huge leap last season as the best player on the team. He averaged a career high 23.4 points a game as well as playing high quality defense. After the All-Star break, he took his game to new levels and thrust himself into the Top-15 player conversation. If he continues his growth from last season, there’s no doubt that by the end of the season he’ll at least be on the edge of the top ten players in the league. As for Brown, he’s always shown the ability to take on more responsibility while not sacrificing quality or efficiency. In recent years, he’s evolved from relying on spot-up opportunities to score to being able to control some of the offense and run pick-and-roll. After poor shooting games from both in their preseason showings, the Celtics will need their two stars to play to their potential to keep up with a very talented Bucks team, and to do well overall in the first part of this season.
The Milwaukee Bucks come into the season with a championship-or-bust mentality. Last season, after finishing with the best regular season record in the league, the Bucks were bounced in five games by the Miami Heat in the Conference Semifinals. This offseason, they went all in, shipping Eric Bledsoe and three first round picks to the New Orleans Pelicans for Jrue Holiday. In their effort to surround Giannis Antetokounmpo with the most talent possible, they stripped the cupboard bare to go for it all now. And just last week, Antetokounmpo agreed to a five-year supermax contract worth $228.2 million, the largest in league history. He will be the center of their team this year and for years to come, and their eyes are squarely set on title contention.
These two teams met three times last season, with the Celtics only able to pull out one win. However, with the amount of roster change that both teams had this offseason, last year’s results are really no indicator of how this game will play out. Although the Celtics are missing Walker, if Tatum and Brown snap back into the form they were in when we last saw them in the bubble in Orlando, this is a very dangerous team that got deeper this offseason. Game 1 against Milwaukee provides a great opportunity to immediately see how the Celtics stack up against the very best talent of the league. If everything goes right, Wednesday night could be the start of a very special season in Boston.