With just 11 games left, the Boston Celtics are fighting for the best possible playoff seed and hoping for home-court advantage in the first round of the postseason. They’ve been on a hot streak as of late, winning four out of their past five games too. The Celtics are currently fifth in the East, just one game behind the Indiana Pacers. Fans had high expectations for Boston this season, but the team hasn’t really lived up to its potential or its lofty goals. They haven’t been consistent and it looks as if they’re lacking a certain intangible team chemistry, despite having all the right pieces and plenty of talent. Sure, they’re still dangerous, but can they fix what’s broken in time for the playoffs?
All Star point guard Kyrie Irving is one of the best guards in the nation and he’s having a heck of a season, maybe even one of the best of his career. Irving is a great all-around player and he’s shown that he’s capable at playing at an MVP level. He currently leads this Celtics team with an average of 23.7 points and 7.1 assists per game. But to progress as deep as Boston hopes in the postseason, he’ll need to keep playing like that.
Irving put up 30 points and had 11 rebounds and 9 assists in their win against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday. Then the Celtics faced a tougher challenge on Monday, taking on a strong Denver Nuggets team and Jamal Murray, with whom Irving had a little drama during their last meeting. Boston fell to the two-seed team in the West 114-105 and afterward, Irving said a few kind words about Isaiah Thomas, the Nuggets’ point guard. The Cleveland Cavaliers swapped Irving for Thomas, who played multiple years for the Celtics.
Irving requested a trade away from the Cavs (and Lebron) in 2017 and now he’s working on becoming the face of the Celtics franchise. But it’s been a rocky couple of years. This season, the Celtics have had to fight off rumors of a “toxic” locker room situation, which third-year player Jaylen Brown recently admitted is a real problem… and losing games only exacerbate it.
In early March, Brown said, “The losing, it’s not a good feeling. Because right now it’s not good. It’s toxic. I can’t really point out one thing. I don’t have all the answers. I’m just going to try to be part of the change. I’m going to try to do my best.”
Brown is hopeful though, refusing to name Irving as the source of any toxicity and following up that statement by looking to the future, saying, “I still believe. I think we’ve got time to get it together. I’m very optimistic and very positive and think that we will … We keep talking about it. I’m just going to try to do it with my play, come out and play hard and try to change the atmosphere and this environment.”
Optimistic or not, Irving might be partially to blame for some of the team’s lack of chemistry. He’s been known for openly criticizing some of the younger Celtics players. In January, he said, “The young guys don’t know what it takes to be a championship-level team.” And his upcoming free agency doesn’t help matters. It’s no secret that if Irving stays, Boston might be willing to trade some of those younger guys like Brown and Jayson Tatum in package deal to acquire Anthony Davis from the Pelicans. But if Irving walks, who knows? He’s made it clear he doesn’t appreciate the constant chatter that surrounds him, preferring to avoid the press and focus on playing basketball.
Meanwhile, the Celtics have other things to worry about. Center Al Horford is being placed on “strategic rest” after experiencing some soreness during the Hawks game. He’s set to miss three or four games before the playoffs. For the Celtics, it’s a precaution so that all players are feeling their best come playoff time. If that means sacrificing regular season wins, so be it. But with their center sitting out these games, will that give their starting lineup enough time to build the chemistry and effectiveness they need to win in the postseason?
The Celtics have to play the third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers tonight, a game that would go a long way in boosting our hopes as well as their playoff position. Boston is only half a game behind Philly at the moment, and this would finish off a series sweep.
For the Celtics, it’s been a difficult job trying to balance a team with so much talent – to give everybody the appropriate looks, passes, and playing time. But head coach Brad Stevens is also cautiously optimistic about his team’s chemistry concerns. Stevens said, “This is all about being together. We have not repeated with the right connected level for a lot of the year. But we can do it and we have done it, and that’s going to have to be a choice. Ultimately, that’s on all of us. We’re all responsible for that. The thing I love most about basketball is when a team comes together. We haven’t yet. So we’ll see.”