By Matthew Gegan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Celtics’ disappointing and disappointing season has come to an end. Boston’s season is over after a Game 5 loss to the Nets, a game that Brooklyn hasn’t played particularly well for a long time.
But the Celtics lacked the talent and manpower to compete with jugglers like the Nets, and an extremely forgettable and regrettable campaign for Boston has now come to an end. Injuries certainly didn’t help the team’s chances throughout the season, but it often felt like the Celtics didn’t have the fighting and grit. Now they are out of the mix for the first time in a long time before the second round, and they have some issues to address in the coming months.
“We’ve never had the right look at this team this year, but I think we have enough information to show that we need to get better,” Brad Stevens said after Game 5 in Brooklyn. “I applaud our guys for being together. They put us in incredible effort and were super coachable. Jason went to another level again – I don’t know how many more levels he can go to.”
“There are a lot of encouraging signs and things to do, but the reality is that we have to improve,” said the Boston coach.
The team was bound to take a step back after the off-season departure of Gordon Hayward, but there was at least some hope that they would probably score a surprise run in the postseason, thanks to the continued rise of Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and a Healthy Kemba Walker. He also showed some promise with a 7-3 start in the season.
Any and all promise – from that beginning and throughout the season – proved to be false hope. The Celtics were only consistent in being inconsistent. After that solid start, he faltered and flirted with .500 for most of the season, finishing 36–36. The Celtics lost at least three straight five times during the season, and their longest winning streak was six straight in April. The team then entered the play-in round, losing 10 of their last 15 matches.
The Celtics either forgot how to play the team defense or simply didn’t care, ending up with a laughable average defensive rating of 111.8. You don’t even want to know what their ratings were in the playoffs against the high-powered Nets. Brad Stevens had led defense-first teams over the past five years.
While Tatum and Brown rose to new levels of stardom, Walker was never healthy. And if he was, he was not so good. The season ended on Tuesday night with Walker on the bench, unable to play the final two games of the season at Boston, due to a knee injury he suffered in Game 2. It wasn’t even the knee injury that the Celtics went through with loops and hoops. Manage during the regular season, and that’s a big concern, as Walker is Boston’s highest-paid player for two more seasons.
One of the most interesting stories during the season was that Danny Ange was going to use the massive TPE he received from the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade with Charlotte. The trading deadline had Harrison Barnes or Aaron Gordon’s dreams. Instead, the Celtics ended up with Ivan Fournier, who was never really comfortable in the green. An actual bout with COVID after a COVID scare kept him out of the lineup upon his arrival, and while he was there he was never the three-point threat that he was in Orlando. Now he’s a free agent, and Ange must bring him back (or work on a sign-and-trade) to save face with his TPE investment.
It was just one of many tricks that Ange did that didn’t work smoothly. Their off-season acquisitions of Jeff Teague and Tristan Thompson were regular season disasters, though Thompson turned things around and made his way into five games worth a good postseason.
Age, Plain and Simple, will have to do much better this season, even with limited wiggle room under the hat.
The president of the Celtics has many tough decisions to make. Or rather, he has to beg for something. Would someone take the walker off their hands – and what would they have to leave behind to help that happen? If Kemba lives, what does this mean for Marcus Smart’s future? And is it (sip) time to break Tatum-Brown’s promising foundation? Trading either would be silly, especially Tatum, but you have to sacrifice something to get something good. Anything is possible this summer.
After Game 5, Smart said, “I don’t think there’s anything to stress about. We probably have a lot of fans and outsiders thinking this and that, but three of the last four seasons we’ve been in the Eastern Conference.” Went to Finals and Playoffs [the last six years]. We didn’t have a full team and that affected us. I think we’re fine, but it’s not my decision.”
This attitude would not go down well with most Celtics fans. But at least there were still bright spots scattered around during an otherwise discouraging season. Tatum has been scoring goals as a superstar, evident from some downright offensive performances at the end of the season, including a 50-point blast against the Wizards in the play-in round and Game 3 against the Nets. If Tatum hasn’t reached superstar status yet, he’ll close that door next season.
And it’s hard not to play the “What If” game with Jaylen Brown’s season-ending wrist injury. Brown brought his game to a whole new level this year, adding a mid-range threat and even more explosiveness in the basket to his repertoire on offense. Brown kept the Celtics running early during Tatum’s COVID absence, and his lead from the floor is matchless.
But aside from the brightness of the two young stars, the rest of Boston was too dim for the Celtics. And now the season is over at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets, the same franchise that Danny Eng ran eight years ago. As the Nets have turned the tables – with Kyrie Irving – it looks like they will be a near-future contender.
Boston’s future is an absolute mystery, although it looks like they may find themselves in NBA refinement; Not enough to struggle for a title, not enough to struggle for the best draft spot. Big changes may be on the way, but it’s possible that Ange puts the band together to give them another chance to show what they can do if everyone stays healthy.
The future is likely to be full of surprises, although unfortunately for the Celtics, they probably won’t be the good kind of surprises.
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