Reflecting on the Celtics after a Problematic Season


Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum collide late in a loss to the Portland Trailblazers. Photo by David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

After the Boston Celtics were expected to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season, it is fair to say that fans are disappointed. Instead of placing in the top four in the east, which could have been foreseen, the C’s are now in the seventh seed, placing them in the play-in games, where they will have to play the Charlotte Hornets. Even if they survive the play-in games, they will end up playing the gritty Philadelphia 76ers or the super-talented Brooklyn Nets in the first round. With Jaylen Brown out due to a wrist injury, it seems very unlikely that the Celtics will make it past either team.

To be fair, the Celtics have been impacted by Covid-19 and other injuries like no other team in the NBA. The team’s star player, Jayson Tatum, missed multiple games and has reported having to use an inhaler before games after recovering from Covid-19. Other players such as Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, and Evan Fournier have also missed games due to Covid-19 protocols and injuries. 

But even with all these problems, the Celtics should not be this bad of a team. After all, they have two All-Stars, both of whom are having career-high seasons in multiple statistics. On April 30th, Jayson Tatum scored 60 points against the Spurs, tying Larry Bird for the franchise record. But if you look deeper than just the headline news, the problems really start to emerge.

In my opinion, the problem starts with coaching. When watching the Celtics, it feels like there is no real plan. It looks like they’re just taking shots to see if they’ll go in. The entire team also seems to have quite a problem moving the ball around, almost like they care more about their own stats than winning the game. Additionally, some of the better offensive players don’t take defense as seriously as they should. In other words, head coach Brad Stevens needs to do a better job telling his players what to do. How many times have we, as fans, seen Jayson Tatum miss a lay-up and complain to the referees instead of getting back on defense? It’s acceptable that players will sometimes play poorly, but its the coach’s job to make them a team, not just a group of players doing their own thing. Since it looks like the organization is keen on holding on to Stevens as a coach, if the Celtics want to play like a real team next season, Brad’s coaching style needs to change.

Another huge problem the Celtics have faced this year are their lack of size and players who play in the paint. This problem was made even worse by loss of Daniel Theis, an integral part of the starting lineup. Without Theis, the team’s only real options are Robert Williams and Tristan Thomson. Robert Williams seems to have a lot of potential, but he is still young and has missed many games this season, counting him out as a player the team could count on. Tristan Thompson is past his prime and his offense is horrendous, making it hard to make a case for him either. The rest of the team also seems to prefer shooting jumpers and threes, even though players like Tatum and Brown are extremely versatile and can play well almost anywhere on the court. The Celtics desperately need to adapt; both by acquiring bigger players and by encouraging their players to play closer to the basket.

“There will be changes this offseason.” -Danny Ainge

Lastly, this season has been tough for Boston because of the lack of bench players. This was especially problematic when regular starters were out this season because the bench was not able to step up and fill their shoes. But more importantly, the Celtics bench is not good enough to support the team against the better teams of the NBA. There have been games this season where the starting line-up has scored more than 100 points and the bench has scored less than 20. This extreme of a difference between the starters and the bench means that if the starters aren’t playing well or aren’t playing at all, the team has no chance of winning. Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has already said that “there will be changes this offseason.” As of now we don’t know to what extent these changes will be, but hopefully the Celtics look at their bench instead of focusing on their starters like they have in other years.

As the Celtics look to the end of the season, there is not much hope for a solid playoff run, but there is still hope for next season. The Celtics may have encountered a couple of problems this season, but they still have an elite young core and their struggles are by no means permanent.