Rising from the forgotten, the Boston Celtics are back!
The Boston Celtics were once trailing the eastern conference pack. Now they are looking like championship contenders, but injuries may hurt them entering posteason.
After a disappointing start to the NBA season, the Boston Celtics have been tearing up the league with their impenetrable defense and high-powered scoring. No matter what, this season was going to be much different in Boston as they ushered in a new coach following the promotion of former head coach Brad Stevens to president of basketball operations after long-time executive Danny Ainge’s retirement. Ime Udoka was named as the head coach in late June, and this was a scary adjustment as Stevens had shown his elite coaching ability in the NBA.
Early in the season, a lot of Celtics fans were worried that Udoka may have been the wrong choice to pioneer this up and coming team. Boston looked tired and unable to keep up with the big name teams, especially in the east. As the results kept falling the other way, Boston fans were just hoping to claim a play-in spot to keep the postseason dream alive. On Jan 6th, they fell to the Knicks and found themselves firmly in 11th place in the east and three games below .500. Since then, the Celtics have bolstered the best record, best offense, and best defense in the entire Eastern Conference. Early on, fans wanted answers, but it looked like Udoka just needed time.
The issue was never personnel, they had the star talent with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but the results weren’t coming early on. However, after some lucrative trades, the Celtics had finally built the team that could dominate. At the NBA trade deadline, the Celtics agreed to ship off Josh Richardson, Romeo Langford, Dennis Schroder, Bruno Fernando, Enes Freedom and a top-four-protected 2022 first round pick to the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets in exchange for Derrick White and Daniel Theis. Theis had already played for Boston and shown signs of being a strong rotational piece in the big man position. White had played in San Antonio since entering the league under future Hall of Fame coach Gregg Popovich, and he brought the same professional attitude and elite talent the NBA saw from him with the Spurs.
Outside of their acquisitions, Boston has also seen the amazing development of Robert Williams lll, who has become one of the toughest defenders in the league. Williams currently ranks number two in both total blocked shots as well as blocks per game. He had been making a very strong case for most improved player or, at the very least, an all-defense selection. Sadly, Williams partially tore the meniscus in his left knee in a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 27. Adrian Wojnarowski, an NBA insider, said that Williams could possibly return in four to six weeks depending on the severity of the injury. Luckily, the meniscus was not fully torn and the Celtics medical staff could even see a return sooner than the four to six week expectation. Williams and the Celtics hope to see him return to action if they are able to reach the second round of playoffs.
The one-two punch of Williams and Marcus Smart on the defensive side has been a formidable duo all season. Since joining The Green in 2014, Smart has been the heart and soul of the Celtics. His tenacity and ferocious play style has tabbed him as one of the hardest working players in the NBA. Celtic fans absolutely adore his “heart on the sleeve” mentality, and his development into more of an offensive weapon has forced additional respect from opposing teams.
Tatum was named an all-star starter following the injury of Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant. Since the all-star break, Tatum has only ramped up his success, being named Eastern Conference player of the week three times in the month of March alone; two of those weekly awards were named back-to-back, which is a first for a Celtics player. Tatum sits at number eight in the league for points per game at 27.1, and holds the highest plus-minus this season at +804.
Tatum’s partner-in-crime Jaylen Brown has started to find this rhythm as well. Coming off of his first all-star appearance the year before, expectations were high for the Georgia native. Like the rest of the Celtics players, Brown wasn’t finding the same success he had seen in his 2020-2021 NBA campaign early in the year. Brown has been touted as one of the smartest NBA players, and his on-court and off-court IQ helped him to bounce back and reclaim his dominance. His 23.6 points per game has silently snuck him into the top 20 in that category. Matched with his fantastic off-ball defense, Brown will be an integral part to the Celtics if they hope to go far this season.
Injuries haven’t favored Boston, but nothing has gone easy for The Green this season. Williams will be missed greatly, but that just means that other players will have to step up and fill that role. Boston has always been a next-up kind of city; the star player or unsung hero may be on the bench waiting to showcase their skills. With the best point differential in the Eastern Conference, these Celtics are legit. Their offensive power has finally met their defensive capabilities, and that can spell disaster for any team facing them in the playoffs. There still remain questions about a lot of teams in the league, but the Celtics have found their stride and show no signs of stopping. From top to bottom, these Celtics have shown the grit and passion to take home a Larry O’Brien trophy.