Image: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
How it Started
With the playoffs on the horizon, the Celtics, who have been rather inconsistent all season long, are looking for a spark and may have just found one. After heading out west for 4 games, with a 1-5 record after the All-Star break, the Celtics have finally come back to Boston a new and improved team. How this happened in such a short time? It’s simple. Togetherness and will. Traveling to the opposite coast, competing in every game you play, and leaving with a winning record is one of the best confidence boosters for a team in the NBA. Once Kyrie was able to step up and become the leader he knows he can be, once he brought this team together on the plane, the Celtics had a heading.
We all heard about the Celtics ‘legendary’six hour plane ride from Boston to San Francisco, that may or may not have saved the season, however, the real story may be how the team responded the next day at practice. Not only were the Celtics ready to go, they were ready to have fun and practice with a lot of energy, as you can see here:
For the 1st time in forever, it looked like the team was having fun playing with each other. This, of course, carried over into the next day, where the team traveled across the Bay to face, the defending champion, Golden State Warriors. Right from the tip, the Celtics started handing it to the Warriors, starting the game on an 11-0 run. During that run the team was moving the ball, making shots, picking up on defense, rebounding, and overall playing as a collective unit. At no point in the game did that slow down, as the Celtics never trailed. Any run Golden State would make it was always countered by a bigger Celtics run. The only point in the game where someone could truly say, “The Warriors could make this a game,” was near the end of the 3rd, with about 4-5 minutes to go. Golden State was starting to lock down defensively, catch fire, and play at their speed, while the Celtics cooled down. That, unfortunately for them, didn’t last long, due to a Brad Stevens timeout. I have no clue what Brad, or anyone else, said during the stop in play, but it gave the team fire. During the next 4 minutes, the Celtics would just about put the game away with an 18-6 run to end the 3rd. The run, caused by great defense and shot making, made the 4th quarter incredibly uncompetitive and helped the Celtics cruise to an easy 128-95 win over the Warriors. Hayward looked like his former All-Star self, scoring 30, Kyrie attacked at all the right moments, while facilitating for other guys, Brown and Tatum combined for 35 points, and the team shot 51% from the field and 41.2% from 3, making the 1st stop in California a success for the Green Team.
The next stop on the Celtics west coast trip came the next night, about 85 miles northeast of the Bay Area, in the California State capital, Sacramento, where they’d face off against a really fun Kings team. Not many people have taken the time to watch the Sacramento Kings play this season, although they should. This Kings team is super fun to watch, they play at a fast pace, work a lot with athletic bigs on the pick and roll, they have a lot of nice shooters, and really nice young guys. It’s a team I’d be watching out for in the West next year, so it makes sense why the Celtics, without Kyrie (bruised thigh), played their most competitive game against this Kings team. Throughout the night it was back and forth. No team made a real run, even though the Celtics held a 10 point lead midway through the 4th. That lead vanished however after a spirited Kings run and the game was all knotted up heading into crunch time. Boston was able to keep themselves afloat down the stretch with some big time shot making by Marcus Morris, Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, and others. Going up 3 with 7 seconds left, all the Celtics had to do was not allow a 3 and an offensive rebound and the game would virtually become over. It’s undoubtedly easier said than done, according to Gordon Hayward, who fouled Buddy Hield on a 3 point attempt on that possession. Buddy Hield, shooting 87.3% from the line this season, knocked down all 3 free throws to knot the game up at 109. 7 seconds still remained on the clock, so Celtics still had a chance at getting a good shot off, which is exactly what they did. Kyle Draper on the call, “Hayward, 5. Hayward, driving. In traffic, hanging, making! Gordon Hayward!” That’s right, baby! Gordon Hayward, who’s been slandered on all year, who didn’t have the best night that night, hung in there, took the reigns, and brought the game home with a game winner. Gordon Hayward, to this very moment, is still progressing from his horrific injury back in October of 2017. He may be alright physically, mentally however could be a different story. The 30 point night in Oakland followed game winner in Sacramento are bigger than you may think for someone like Gordon Hayward. Not only is it big for Hayward, it’s big for the team as a whole. A game winner can always lift a team and provide energy for them moving forward, which is exactly what the Celtics would need to finish up their stint on the west coast.
Los Angeles – Part 1
Moving down to the 2nd largest city in the United States, the Celtics faced a 2 game stint in LA, before they could head home to Boston. The 1st game came against the Lakers, who, one could say, were very, very short handed that night. LA’s injury report consisted of Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Tyson Chandler, and Lance Stephenson. Boston cruised in this game. They didn’t dominate, they cruised. Their injury level wasn’t ridiculously high, they missed a bunch of open shots, and couldn’t get back on transition, yet still won the game comfortably. LeBron James was on minutes restriction, Mo Wagner and Jonathan Williams played major minutes, and the game was never competitive. This game, in my opinion, was the Celtics easiest. So easy they didn’t have to go all but 75%.
Los Angeles – Part 2
This 2nd game of the LA stint was a throw away for the Celtics. Facing the Clippers, they straight up were outplayed. Although they played hard, the Celtics weren’t able to matchup against the Clippers, who shot a ridiculous 61.6% from the field. All night Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell would kill the Celtics in the pick and roll, along with the quick combo of guards in Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley. Physically, the Celtics just didn’t have enough bodies to throw the Clippers way. LA is a bigger team and the Celtics biggest guy, outside of Al Horford, is either Daniel Theis or Aron Baynes, who both played about 9 minutes. It was just a matchup nightmare and a smart, scrappy team like the Clippers exploited every mismatch they could. Danilo Gallinari started the game hot, Montrezl Harrell was a monster all night around the rim, Patrick Beverley was a pest, and Lou Williams went bananas in the stages of the game to put the game away. Like I said, the Celtics played hard, but just got majorly outplayed by a very good basketball team. 140-115, Clippers, wound up being the final score to a contest in which the Celtics stayed steady in.
What we can Expect from the Celtics
When I, and a lot of other people, look at this Celtics team, there’s clearly a lot of talent. The talent hasn’t quite come together this season and there have been multiple reasons why. Guys aren’t sacrificing, lineups haven’t quite been figured out, the team lacks leadership, and straight up the talent doesn’t fit. Although with this recent Celtics California trip, I think a lot of that has the potential to change. No team wants to peak in February, every playoff team wants to start peaking around April-May, in the Playoffs. It’s not inconceivable to think the Celtics haven’t peaked yet. It’s not inconceivable to think this is finally the beginning of a real run for the Celtics, a run that will have them peaking in the playoffs. I’ve said it before, the Celtics have had these nice looking runs all season but have followed them up with some really bad losses. So far, the Celtics haven’t been able to follow up this recent good stretch with any bad losses and I don’t think it’s going to happen this time. This run felt different, the vibe of the team felt different during this run. The Celtics weren’t facing a bunch of bad teams in a row, they faced quality opponents, on the road, in a whole different time zone. There are a lot of people who don’t believe in this Celtics team out there. That’s fine. I for one am not one of those people. This team is too talented to fall apart in the 2nd round of the NBA Playoffs. I can’t see it happening. From this point on, I expect a very different Celtics team. A team that plays with energy, a team that can compete with anybody in the league. This team can do it, they just now need to go out and prove it on a consistent bases.
March 14th, 2019
By: Seamus Zarlingo