By Staff Writer Thomas Griffin.
A 2019 season that was projected to see the Boston Celtics as the frontrunners has, so far, fallen short of Boston’s expectations.
It’s July 2018. The Celtics are two months removed from nearly upsetting LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Having led the series both 2-0 and 3-2, Boston falls short in games six and seven, missing the NBA Finals by a few buckets against a player called “the king” and his royal subjects.
Going into the playoffs seeded second in an unusually competitive Eastern Conference, the Celtics had genuine playoff hopes. There was just one big problem: both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were injured and inactive. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum did what they could to fill the shoes of the injured stars, but it was all in vain.
July 2nd marked a turn in the Celtics luck that would change their playoff outlook for the foreseeable future. LeBron James – the proverbial queen of the Cavaliers’ chess set, the biggest roadblock between the Celtics and the Finals – was being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers of the Western Conference. With Cleveland losing their anchor, the Toronto Raptors being, well, the Raptors, and every other Eastern Conference team slowly fading out of relevance, the Celtics looked to be in prime shape to sweep 2018 straight through the finals. Irving and Hayward would get healthy by opening night, and the guys in green would never look back.
Flash forward to February of 2019. The Celtics sold out the TD Garden, in front of a home crowd of New England Patriots, fresh off their own championship win, and Boston sports fans eager to continue the trend of winning everything. To honor the city, they let a dead-to-rights Lakers team squeak by with a buzzer beater. If that’s not enough to take wind out of sails, they get grossly outplayed by the Los Angeles Clippers two days later.
By the all-star weekend, the Boston Celtics find themselves at 37 wins and 21 losses on the season. Stuck at fourth in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics are dead tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for being the East’s playoff ankle-biters. It’s not quite the .500 straddling mediocrity (or worse) that truly disappointing NBA teams are capable of, but their current mixed success doesn’t scream “deep playoff run” just yet.
No one had expected this roster, stuffed with young talent, to blow up in such spectacular fashion, but many seem to point to issues in culture and discipline throughout the rookie roster. Irving, one of the few Celtics with championship experience to his name, shared that he and his teammates needed to tighten up team-play before anything else. “So the things that you are doing that you have done your whole entire career… being able to coast by certain situations… being on a championship ball club, you can’t get away with that,” noted Irving after a particularly tough loss to the Miami Heat.
Despite the bleak outlook for the team, and their waning success through the regular season, Irving doesn’t seem worried about the Celtics’ current position. He admitted with authority that his Celtics were “better than most teams in this league,” with the team’s future attitude dedicated to “going out and proving it.”
While it’s too early to say with any certainty whether or not this Celtics team has any chance of fulfilling their championship dreams at the 11th hour, it’s also too early to rule out their possibility of playoff contention. Between then and now, there are two months’ worth of basketball that Boston can use to turn their season around.