The Boston Celtics are a team surrounded by legend. With their iconic jerseys and a storied history that’s filled with the likes of Larry Bird, Bill Russell, and Paul Pierce, can they live up to their past? They rank fifth in the East right now with a 21-14 record and they’ve got a star like Kyrie Irving to lead the pack. But is that enough to help them make it to the Finals? As of December 2018, Vegas thinks they’ve got the third-best odds to hang a banner and many experts are calling for a Warriors-Celtics Finals, but what do we think? Here’s a quick look at the Celtics this season.
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The key veteran players
Boston doesn’t have a ton of veteran players right now, yet they’re somehow able to handle the pressure and win games. But they do have one crucial piece of experience in the form of Kyrie Irving.
In his eighth year in the NBA and second season with the Celtics, Irving is the leader of this team. The starting point guard has creativity, technique, and the ability to improvise in situations where he doesn’t have a lot of space. On Christmas Day, the 26-year-old point guard put up 40 points against the Sixers, partially, he admits, to entertain his extended family who were in attendance that had never seen him play. Just like that, he’s able to embrace the pressure and perform. He averages over 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists per game, but he’s also the guy you want making tough shots in clutch moments.
Irving has also had to deal with injuries like a broken kneecap, which took surgery, screws, and lots of time to heal. And recently, he’s had to recoup from an injured shoulder. But as a veteran, he knows it’s important to make time to rest his body, sitting with his feet in a bucket of ice and wrapping his ankles and knees after games.
Irving has shown frustration with his younger teammates when it comes to their effort and decision-making on and off the court. He recently said that he wants young Celtics players to realize that being an NBA player is a full-time job, especially when they’re playing on the road, like during their recent come-from-behind game in Memphis. With all the difficulties that come from travel, breaking their normal routines, hotel room life, and the temptations of a new city, it’s tougher than it looks to win away from home. He’s been critical of them in the past, but in this case, it’s really more about tough love – wanting his team to win and encouraging them to show some maturity and professionalism.
Center Al Horford is another key veteran player who the Celtics can’t afford to lose. At 32-years-old, he’s missed seven games recently – out with Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome. Without any true backup center, head coach Brad Stevens tried to play without one, instead putting Irving on the court with four wings. (Yeah, that didn’t work out well.) Thank goodness, Horford was able to return to the court in the Celtics game against the Sixers. Horford plays great interior defense and averages about 12 points and just over 6 rebounds per game, but he can also hit three-point shots occasionally, tying his career high of five threes against the Grizzlies. The Celtics simply have no replacement for him – unless they trade for one – and their playoff hopes may very well depend on Horford staying healthy.
Forward Marcus Morris is also making an impact with his versatility, intensity, and basketball intelligence. He can shoot, rebound, and play defense as well. Morris saved the Celtics throughout the beginning of the season as an important off-the-bench scorer. He’s also the most second most accurate three-point shooter on the team and third-highest scorer on the team, averaging 15.4 points per game. Despite not being a starter, he has a huge impact on the Celtic’s ability to win games.
The team is currently facing a bit of a dilemma with veteran Gordon Hayward. After being chosen as an All Star in 2017, Hayward sustained a very serious ankle injury and he hasn’t yet returned to his former playing style. He’s not nearly as fast, as comfortable, or as consistent as he was last year, and no one is sure if he’ll ever be. He’s only averaging 10 points a game so far this season, but what can you really say about it? It was a struggle for the guy to walk again, much less feel comfortable back on the court! He’s not playing bad, he’s just not as good as before. TBD on what the Celtics’ plan is for Hayward.
A young Boston Celtics team and its struggles
Jayson Tatum might only be 20 years old but he can score, steal, rebound, and pass. The dynamic small forward averages just over 16 points per game. He’s able to make ridiculous plays for a rookie, including some monster dunks. December has been his best month yet and we can only expect more from here. Of Tatum, Coach Stevens said the Celtics expect to see “unlimited growth ahead.”
Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown are two of the Celtics’ other twenty-something players. Brown, a shooting guard, is battling a recent hand injury, though he still looked good and managed a solid 18 points in the team’s loss to the Rockets last Thursday. His average is more like 11 points though. Reserve point guard Rozier is currently at the center of trade rumors as many sports experts are saying that he doesn’t bring much to the table except a decent three-point shot and defensive rebounding. They think Rozier would be a great point guard… for a team that didn’t already have Kyrie Irving. Other experts say the Celtics should trade both these guys.
Another problem facing this team? Unlike, say, the Indiana Pacers, the Celtics struggle with how to distribute the minutes and the ball and share the wealth amongst so many talented players. Still, they are great on defense and they’ve won 10 out of their last 14 games. Let’s just see how they stand up to opponents like the Spurs, Nets, Pacers, and Heat in the coming weeks.