The Celtics’ first 20 games of the season were tough to watch, to say the least. The start to the season discouraged many Celtics’ fans, having some think that the season was over and everybody needed to be traded. But, nearly 30 games into the season, the Celtics now sit at the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 18-11. The Celtics are a game out of the 4th seed, 1.5 games from the 2nd seed, and only 3.5 games behind Toronto for first in the conference.
A quick 8-game win streak put an end to all that blasphemy. Sure, the teams the Celtics went up against may not have been the strongest teams record-wise, but the Celtics seemed to have figured out their major problems. A simple change of inserting both Marcus Smart and Morris into the starting lineup in place of Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward has worked wonders for the team.
Instead of trading Brown or Hayward, placing them into different roles seemed to be the better option. It was apparent that both Gordon and Jaylen were struggling with the starters. It made more sense for Hayward since he was coming back from a year off of basketball due to his injury. Gordon needed a more prominent role to get a feel for his game and let it come back to him. He will eventually make his way back to the starting lineup, but his time on the bench is allowing him to get more comfortable on the court and get his groove back.
Jaylen’s struggles was a little bit more surprising, but also an easy fix. The starting lineup had too many players who need the ball in their hands to be effective. You have Kyrie, Tatum, and now Hayward who needs to get touches, and there’s only one basketball. Jaylen’s role as a spot-up shooter and being used as a player who doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be productive didn’t work. Now, on the bench, he has a more expanded role and has the ball in his hands more often. If his first three games off the bench he came in and scored 21, 23, and 19 points. I hope Jaylen becomes more accepting of this role because he can be an actual threat off the bench.
I would also love to have Marcus Smart remain in the starting lineup because of his grittiness and willingness to sacrifice his body every damn play. He has a role and plays that role so well on this team. He’s a defensive juggernaut but doesn’t need the ball in his hands to make an impact on the offensive end of the court. He compliments Kyrie pretty well, and they look comfortable playing next to each other.
So, to the title of the article: after the Celtics’ slow start and rise back to being considered a threat, what are their odds of making the NBA Finals? To me, the odds haven’t changed at all through anything that’s happened so far this season. This piece is more opinionated than anything, so this is why my answer is what it is.
The Celtics were never in serious trouble. They had their struggles to start the year, but wouldn’t a fan prefer those struggles so early and not so late in the season? The Celtics had to figure out how to play with each other. Jayson and Jaylen went from the top options in the playoffs to second-fiddle to Kyrie and now Hayward. Terry went from a starting PG in the Eastern Conference Finals to a bench player. Hayward had played five total minutes with this team last year before snapping his ankle.
There were so many different issues the Celtics were going to have and had early on. The Celtics’ players and fans (myself included) thought they’d figure it out with the snap of a finger, but it took longer than expected. That’s why people started freaking out after seeing the team play the way they were. They simply needed time to figure things out. And look what happened, an 8-game win streak after changing the starting lineup up a bit. The team still has ways to go to become that huge threat to Golden State we’ve been expecting, but come playoff time I wouldn’t want to stand in the way of this Celtics’ team.
The Celtics have been, are, and will be more than fine. The Celtics will battle the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. That’s the way it was going to be and will not change. Now if we’ll beat Golden State is a different topic for a different day, but for right now, my money is on the Celtics making it out of the Eastern Conference and attempt to take down the back-to-back NBA champions.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images