Are These Celtics Ready for the Playoffs?
Are these Celtics ready for the playoffs?
For the elite teams in the Association, the regular season is nearly a formality. Yes, there are deeply meaningful contests each and every night, but the real contenders know that the 82-game slog is just a warm-up for what comes next.
Indeed, the NBA is the most predictable of the major North American sports leagues. We really can feel confident that the best clubs can sleepwalk their way into the postseason.
This 2018-19 iteration of the Boston Celtics was supposed to have that luxury. The C’s were expected to be the preeminent force in the Eastern Conference, the standard bearers in the postseason. All eyes were on the playoffs.
Monday’s home loss to the Nuggets underscores Boston’s challenge. Confusing struggles and strife have derailed the dream, and with just a dozen or so games left on the regular season calendar, the C’s still have more questions than answers.
This group of Celtics might still not be ready for the postseason. As the team heads into the home stretch, Boston can’t afford to take its foot off the gas.
By many metrics, things are indeed looking up for the Celtics. The team is 6-2 in the month of March, and has slowly worked to erase the swirling negativity and doubt that came with a disappointing start.
Kyrie Irving, despite all of the drama and speculation, is having a career-year. Uncle Drew is playing at his best, something any contender needs from their star players.
Boston’s supporting players too are showing encouraging signs of life. Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown are beginning to put together some impressive outings, while Gordon Hayward is becoming more and more like his pre-injury self.
Consider this play from the other day against Atlanta. There’s a certain feng shui floating around the Celtics that was wholly absent even a few weeks ago.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has helped his team right the ship, it seems. At full-strength, on paper anyway, the C’s should fear no team in the East.
All of that said, Boston still can’t rest easy. Playoff seeding may ultimately be an overrated consideration when all is said and done, but instead the C’s still need to workshop some things, the team still has some screws in desperate need of tightening.
Because of the sustained adversity, things are tense in Boston. Each win - even a narrow one against a bad Hawks team - is cause for celebration. And each loss always ends up under a microscope.
Boston’s flaws and streaky ways are, therefore, quite pronounced. As of late, the team’s early season stalwarts Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris have been disappointing. Not surprisingly, the Celtics are posting a rather pedestrian 109.1 defensive rating this month.
That’s been the tale of this team. When the threes are falling, the rim protection lags. When the defense is soaring, the locker room is unhappy. A blowout win in Golden State is followed by an historic loss to the Clippers. And on and on.
That, in a nutshell, is why the Celtics cannot afford to relent down the stretch, because frankly, the team still isn’t ready for the postseason. Yes, Al Horford should get some rest, and sure, entering the playoffs without hyper-analyzing the tail end of the regular season will be good for the soul. But this team still lacks rhythm, it still lacks consistency.
Boston has a rather easy schedule to close out the year. The Celtics should take advantage of this. Not to relax or sit starters. No, the C’s need to turn the heat up and build some confidence and rodomontade as the postseason looms.
The Brad Stevens era in Boston has been the tale of underdogs and triumph. Against all odds, his club is once again in that position, however counter-intuitively. Surely a locker room rich with personality like this Celtics one will thrive off of an outside sense of doubt.
When things are clicking in the Hub, the C’s are a bonafide contender. The team has too much depth, and too much elite talent. The right rhythm has been elusive and fleeting, however. Such inconsistency won’t be sustainable in the postseason.
Perhaps the postseason will light the right fire under the right butts in Boston. Or perhaps it will prove too immense a challenge for a team that has fought to keep its head above water. Only time will tell.