For arguably the first time in this new NBA season, the Boston Celtics finally made a headline for the right reason. It seems like all they needed was a trip down to Florida where they pulled off a 95-78 win over the Miami Heat.
The Celtics have started this season with a few streaks, starting with back-to-back losses to open the year. They followed it up with a pair of wins, the latter of which was an impressive 140-129 overtime win on the road over the Charlotte Hornets where Jayson Tatum had a season-high 41 points.
Unfortunately, they could not build on the momentum from Tatum’s big performance and instead lost their next three outings–a home-and-away set with the Washington Wizards before they hosted the visiting Chicago Bulls.
The loss to the Bulls was apparently the tipping point for Boston’s locker room. They led by 14 heading into the last period, 103-89, until they allowed a 39-point fourth quarter from Chicago that turned what looked like an almost guaranteed win into a disastrous 128-114 loss.
Following the team’s meltdown, Marcus Smart had one of his own and he tore into his teammates at the post game press conference, particularly their stars Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Smart, now in his eighth year in the league, criticized the pair for their selfish play and it led to a players-only meeting.
That bull session may or may not have done the trick, but the results since then have nonetheless been as desired. The Celtics responded with a sweep of their recently concluded trip to Florida, taking a 92-79 win versus the Orlando Magic succeeded by an even more impressive 17-point drubbing of Miami.
The Heat entered the contest with the best record in the Eastern Conference and started out strong, taking a six-point lead, 24-18, after the first quarter. Things then took a strange twist as Boston’s bench sparked an unlikely run that put them up by 18, 51-33, by halftime.
The trio of Dennis Schroder, Aaron Nesmith, and Romeo Langford caught Miami flat-footed and their second quarter exploits gave the Celtics enough of a cushion to cruise to a surprising 95-78 win. It was their efforts that made the difference with Schroder finishing with 14 points, five rebounds, and six assists while his fellow reserves Nesmith and Langford combined for 25.
Judging by the statistics of their starters, there was no reason why they should have won the game over this juggernaut Heat team, let alone by 17 points. Brown needed 17 shots to score 14 points before exiting the rout early with hamstring tightness. Meanwhile, Tatum shot three-for-13 on his way to scoring a mere 10 points with eight rebounds. Both Al Horford and Marcus Smart also shot poorly and made just a third of their shots en route to combining for 19 points.
Boston’s balanced effort helped them win the contest, which was actually what Smart was stressing during his tirade. If they can receive similar contributions from their bench on a consistent basis, then this win might have just been the jump start to their season that they have sorely needed.
However, that may just be wishful thinking and this win may go down as just a flash in the pan. The solution to the Celtics’ problems go beyond the willingness of Tatum and Brown to pass the ball. Their roster is structurally flawed and lacks a bona fide perimeter playmaker.
Among their rotation pieces, only Horford has ever been recognized as an above average facilitator though he has never been the fulcrum of an offense and cannot be expected to do so for the first time in his career at the age of 35.
Tatum, Brown, and Smart have succeeded as secondary options and ball handlers albeit their performances through the years have never indicated that they have the potential to run an offense full time. The same goes for the newly acquired Schroder whose clear priority is to score the ball more than anything else.
The future is looking bleak for this once-promising team that made the Eastern Conference Finals three out of four times between the ‘16-’17 and ‘19-’20 seasons. The main difference between those teams and this current iteration of the Celtics is that they had Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, or even Terry Rozier leading their attack.
The impact of these two point guards’ shot creation abilities on the team seems to have been overlooked in favor of Tatum and Brown and it may cost Boston dearly. As it stands, a repeat of last season’s first round exit seems more likely than another trip to the Eastern Conference Finals unless drastic changes–either in terms of personnel or mindset–can be implemented.
In the meantime, one last stop on their road trip remains. They are set take on the Dallas Mavericks, who have displayed an equally disjointed offense over the season’s first few weeks, in an opportunity to extend their winning streak to three.
Major changes cannot happen overnight, but a couple of wins strung together here and there may provide them with a respite from their in-fighting and possibly some answers. Together with some of that “Luck of the Irish”, this may be just enough to help them figure things out sooner rather than later and prevent this season from spiraling into an unmitigated disaster.