Some words of optimism about the Celtics' recent play
Celtics' centerpiece and untouchable player Jayson Tatum stunting on the haters.
Yesterday's exciting comeback victory marked the Celtics' third win in a row, and just like that, the Celtics are now 7-3 in their last ten games. The Celtics are two games above .500 at 28-26, which is good for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Only three games separate the 4-9 seeds in the East, so the Celtics need to continue to win to even maintain positioning outside of the Play-In Tournament (which they currently would be participating in if the season ended today). The Celtics have had a number of thrilling victories during this brief win streak including a gritty win over the Knicks, an overtime effort and career high 53 points from Jayson Tatum, and the aforementioned Nuggets victory. It's nice to see the Celtics come together as a team and win in a variety of ways, especially in a season prone to defensive lapses and playing down to inferior teams.
A large part of the Celtics' win streak has simply been because of health. Nearly the entire team has been healthy and available to play during this win streak, aside from Trade Deadline acquisition Evan Fournier, who hasn't played since April 4th against the Charlotte Hornets due to Health & Safety Protocols. Romeo Langford made his season debut on April 4th, and immediately gained Coach Stevens' trust through his reliable defensive presence. Tristan Thompson has also provided a great boost as the primary backup center since returning from Health & Safety Protocols himself. Thompson's energy and veteran leadership are important for a young Celtics team, and he's especially needed now that Theis is now a member of the Chicago Bulls. Rob Williams hasn't been out with injuries as of late, but his promotion to the Celtics' starting center has helped the team with playmaking, energy, and defense.
With only 18 games in the season, it's time for the Celtics to elevate themselves above the rest of the mid-tier teams in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics have the 14th most difficult remaining schedule in the league, and while this is only a moderately difficult schedule, some of the other mid-tier teams all have statistically easier schedules than the Celtics. The Heat (19th), Pacers (20th), Hornets (21st), and Hawks (25th) all have easier schedules, so it's critical that the Celtics lock in over through the remainder of the season. Nine of the 18 remaining games will be played at the TD Garden with fans, so again, while it's not awful, it could be better.
Tristan Thompson spoke about the team record heading into the playoffs, and said he valued team health over playoff seeding. Thompson referenced the playoff runs the Cleveland Cavaliers made during his time with LeBron, as the Lebron-led Cavs regularly made deep playoff runs as a lower seed, most notably making the NBA Finals as a fourth seed in 2018. The Celtics should be aiming to grab the fourth seed by the season's end, and avoid the Play-In Tournament entirely, along with a matchup against the Nets, 76ers, or Bucks until the second round. It's unlikely that the Celtics advance to the NBA Finals over one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference, but crazier things have happened. Home court advantage matters more this season than it did last year in the NBA Bubble, but NBA are are still at limited capacity, so fans will have less of an impact. Still, the familiarity with a home arena is important, as is less travel, so the Celtics shouldn't be completely dismissive of their playoff seeding, but I am appreciative of Thompson's reassuring confidence in the team.
Tristan Thompson: "I think winning a bunch of games in the regular season is a bunch of horseshit."
Thompson went off to rattle off how his Cleveland teams regularly beat higher seeded teams in the playoffs.
Said: "Being healthy for the playoffs is what matters to me."
This season has been the most frustrating Celtics team since Kyrie Irving's last season in Boston, but I remain optimistic. If the team can remain healthy, I truly believe the Celtics can surprise people in the playoffs. The Celtics have received a large amount of media and fan criticism this year, and I think that making the playoffs and winning a round or two does serve as an emotional victory of sorts. I recognize that Boston doesn't hand out participation trophies or celebrate a playoff series win, but this team has endured a lot this season. Regardless of the final outcome, the ability to demonstrate that this Celtics team hasn't peaked, and to quiet the doubters could serve some good to carry the Celtics beyond this transitional season. Now we just have to hope that the good energy can continue, and the Celtics can carry this momentum forward in the final push to the playoffs.
UPDATE: As I was writing this, Jayson Tatum was announced as the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. It just makes my chosen cover pic for this post all the more appropriate. Optimism Celtics fans, optimism!