With their 96-95 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night, the Boston Celtics reached the quarter mark of their abbreviated 72-game season at 10-8. Sitting in 5th place in the Eastern Conference, the C’s are only a half-game out of 3rd place, but also only a half-game above 6th place. It’s been a bit of an up-and-down start to the year, so let’s take a look at the good and the bad of the C’s first 18 games.
Good – Jaylen Brown is a star
By far, the best development of the young season is that Jaylen Brown has taken his leap to stardom. We saw signs of it coming last season when he averaged a new career high 20.3 points per game on 48% shooting. This year, though, he’s blown both of those numbers out of the water. He’s currently scoring 27.1 per game on 53% shooting, including a career-best 44% from 3, and has continued to be among the team’s best on-ball defenders. In today’s NBA, it takes multiple stars to win a title, so Brown joining Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum in the league’s upper class is an enormous development for the C’s this season and beyond.
Bad – COVID Spread
To start the year, the Celtics stayed healthier than many other NBA teams that had games postponed within the first two weeks of the year. However, after their January 8 matchup with the Wizards, the wheels started to fall off. Their next three games would be postponed as more than half of the team ended up in the Health and Safety Protocols due to contact tracing. Of course, Jayson Tatum was one of the players that ended up testing positive, which caused him to miss the next five games that the team played, going almost two weeks without seeing the court. The C’s went 2-3 in those games, and although Jaylen Brown did his best to carry the load, it wasn’t enough, especially in their two game series against the 76ers. Luckily, Tatum and the rest of the players that were out have returned, but those losses are the difference between the team being in 3rd place and the 5th place the C’s find themselves in.
Good – Young players
The Celtics young players have been a bright spot this season. Rookie Payton Pritchard has been solid since day 1, rarely making any mistakes and earning Brad Stevens’ trust without the benefit of a real offseason or preseason. Robert Williams, who showed potential last year but never was able to play consistently, has been the Celtics best big for long stretches of the year. Unfortunately, he was one of the players to test positive for COVID, so he has missed some time and lost a little rhythm, but overall he has been a solid contributor. Second year player Carsen Edwards has had moments where he showed off his pure scoring ability off the bench. Rookie Aaron Nesmith is still finding his stroke, but he’s looked better in recent outings and seems to be earning the coaching staff’s trust with each passing game.
Bad – Injuries
Only a quarter of the way through the season, Boston has had some bad luck with injuries. To start, Kemba Walker missed the first 11 games of the season as he recovered from the knee injury that limited his effectiveness at the end of last season. Then, once he finally played his first game of the year, Payton Pritchard went down with a sprained MCL that at first glance appeared as if he might have torn his ACL. Luckily, he escaped with a much less serious injury, but for a young player who was just starting to get rolling, this injury could not have come at a worse time. And finally, in the Celtics loss to the Lakers, Marcus Smart went down with a non-contact leg injury that left him grabbing the back of his lower leg. Once again, the Celtics dodged a bullet, as Smart only sprained his calf, rather than tearing his Achilles. Still, the injuries have mounted, and we really have not been able to see the whole Celtics roster this season.
So what does the rest of the season look like? The sky is the limit.
The Celtics big three is finally healthy and ready to roll, and this trio should be one of the best in the entire league. Jayson Tatum cemented himself among the league’s elite last season, and Jaylen Brown is making that jump this year. Based on his play so far, Brown should absolutely be voted in as an All-Star starter. Once Kemba gets back to the Kemba we all know, instead of shooting 1-12 like he did against the Lakers on Saturday night, the Celtics should start rolling people and working their way up the Eastern Conference standings.
The play of their bigs continues to be an issue, as players like Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis have completely dominated Boston in their matchups so far. Daniel Theis, as hard as he tries, is just too small, and Tristan Thompson gets abused in the pick and roll. However, there are issues on the defensive end that go far past just the play of the center position. The Celtics need more buy-in from all five players that are on the court to defend as a unit. Coach Brad Stevens’ teams have always prided themselves on the defensive end, and let their offense flow from it. This year, though, the defense has really struggled, and has been the reason that the C’s have lost a few games. Getting the defense back on track is key if Boston wants to make a deep postseason run this year through a strong East.
Overall, the Celtics are probably a little bit behind where we expected them to be at this point, but it’s justified when we take into account everything that has happened this year. Having two of your three stars miss weeks of action is obviously far from ideal, so being where they are is actually a pretty good start to the year. Although they still have lots of wrinkles to smooth over, once Walker, Tatum, and Brown get a little chemistry going, things will be looking up at the TD Garden.
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