What’s Wrong with the Boston Celtics?
Coming off an Eastern Conference Finals appearance without two of their best players Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Many expected the Boston Celtics to be the best team in the East and potentially to push for 60+ wins. That hasn’t been the case so far, as the Celtics sit in 5th place in the East at 26-18 after 44 games (
A recent 3-game losing streak to teams at or below .500 (the Heat, Magic, and Nets) and a win over Toronto, the current top-seed in the East, highlight the inconsistency that the team has shown all season. The Celtics have
Despite their place in the standings, the Celtics profile as an elite team, sitting just outside the league’s top 10 in offensive rating, 5th in defensive rating, and third in net rating. Part of the issue with a younger team like the Celtics might be expectations. Once Irving went down last year, not much was expected of the team heading into last postseason. So, in the face of doubt, players like Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown were able to rise to the occasion as they pushed the Cavs to the brink in the Eastern Conference Finals. For many of the team’s younger players, this is the first time they’ve faced the pressure of high expectations in the NBA.
While it sounds foolish, the Celtics might have too much talent. With Hayward, Irving, and Horford all healthy, the team presumably has all they need to be successful night in and night out. The problem has come in how many of the players have had to adjust. Many teams have role players who are used to coming off the bench and playing their roles. For the Celtics, players like Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, who started and were two of the team’s go-to options most nights in last year’s postseason, are now being asked to come off the bench and be productive as seventh and eighth men.
Gordon Hayward is healthy physically but he’s still trying to regain his confidence and consistency after last season’s devastating ankle injury. He too is getting acclimated to a role coming off the bench for the Celtics as Marcus Morris continues to shine for Boston in a contract year. Brad Stevens’ job isn’t easy as he has to keep the team engaged on both ends of the floor as well as find the balance between leaning on Kyrie Irving as his main creator and giving Jayson Tatum reps as a go-to scoring option.
Ultimately, the Boston Celtics need to establish their identity as a team. This falls not just on Brad Stevens but also Irving, the team’s star player. His phenomenal performance in the Celtics recent victory over the Raptors is a good place to start.
Irving still has room to grow as a leader and he’s recognized that. After the game, Irving told the media that he called LeBron James to apologize and reflect on how much he’s learning about being a leader. This comes after calling out the intensity of his younger teammates following their loss to the Magic and later backtracked on those comments, saying, “Sometimes I come off and say things, never want to question my teammates publicly, I just want to win so bad.”
“Now I’m in this position. I asked for this and I want this,” Irving continued to tell reporters after the Toronto game, “I want the responsibility, and I take it on full force.” Sometimes it’s best to lead by example. If Irving keeps playing at this level and the Celtics as a whole play as well as they did against the Raptors, they could still become the team everyone expected them to be going into the season.