If there was a team that encapsulated the uncertainties and struggles of playing an NBA season in the midst of the pandemic, it would have to be the Boston Celtics.
Fresh off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals (their third in the last four years), the 17-time NBA champions have struggled for much of this season compared to their contending peers. Injuries, COVID-19 health and safety protocols, and inconsistencies on both ends of the floor have generated a level of disappointment from the fanbase that naturally comes with the club’s high standards.
Their postseason chances will now be much tougher as they will be without Jaylen Brown, who will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a torn scapholunate ligament in his left wrist. It was quite unfortunate as prior to that, he had been averaging career-highs of 24.7 points (on career-best shooting splits of .484/.397/.764), 3.4 assists, and 1.2 steals.
Brown forms part of the Celtics’ 1-2 punch with Jayson Tatum, who himself has had his share of highs and lows this season. Not only did he contract COVID-19, but his prolonged recovery was well-documented. However, it did not stop him from erupting for a career-high 60 points in a 143-140 comeback win over the San Antonio Spurs.
Tatum will likely take in more of the offensive load along with Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart, while Brown’s loss on the defensive end will need to be made up for with a team effort. Midseason acquisition Evan Fournier has struggled at times in acclimating himself to his new role with Boston and he will likely have an opportunity to strut his stuff with Brown sidelined.
With another player out, the Celtics’ lack of depth will be a vulnerability that opposing teams will look to take advantage of. Trading Daniel Theis now seems regrettable given that they’re down a body to throw at the likes of Joel Embiid, Bam Adebayo, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Boston head coach Brad Stevens has been with the squad for eight seasons and his seat continues to get hotter with each passing title-less season. The circumstances which he and his team are currently facing could give him some leeway, but the Celtics have never been short on talent and resources so there’s that.
At 35-35, Boston seems firmly locked into the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference, as they are one game ahead of the Indiana Pacers and three games behind the Miami Heat. There were moments this season when they sank below .500 and while it happened when they were short-handed, it certainly did not ease the worries of Celtics fans.
|Opponent||Date of Next Matchup||Current Seed in Conference||20-21 Season Series||Result of the Last Matchup|
|Minnesota Timberwolves||May 16||13th (West)||1-0||Win (OT), 145-136|
|New York Knicks||May 17||6th (East)||1-1||Win, 101-99|
Boston has a relatively manageable schedule to close out the regular season, with the New York Knicks being the only opponents who are playoff bound and have a record above .500. Miami now owns the tiebreaker after defeating the Celtics in their final showdown of the regular season.
The Celtics’ last NBA title was way back in 2008 and since then, they’ve had more success in the trade market and the NBA draft than winning championships. President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge has been masterful in acquiring future assets and this has helped them remain competitive each year. Any other franchise (aside from the Los Angeles Lakers of course) would be fine with that type of success but the Celtics and the other Boston sports teams are judged on championship standards rather than potential championship chances.
The introduction of the play-in tournament has made the conclusion of the 2020-2021 NBA Season one of the more exciting finishes in recent years. It has been met with mixed reactions from among the teams, especially those who may be in danger of falling into the extra set of games.
The Boston Celtics have never made any public announcements against the play-in tourney (Celtics team governor Wyc Grousbeck was part of the unanimous vote for it) but they’re likely not happy to find themselves in the thick of things, with the recent injury to Brown making things doubly difficult for them.