To say that the Boston Celtics have performed below expectations may be one of the greater understatements in all of sports. A team that was one game from advancing to the NBA finals last season has been mired in mediocrity all season. The uninspired play has drawn vocal frustration from radio pundits, fans, and more surprisingly their head coach.
While a span of mediocre performances is not an oddity with this recent era’s Celtics, the lack of urgency and apparent brush off that many of the losses have seemed to be treated with is something of a new development this season. Not only has the external grumbling begun to amplify, players like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have both expressed concern that the team lacks mental toughness to compete at present.
For all the pleading and demanding that the team has endured of late, the plain fact is that this team will go nowhere until this current player assembly unites together and commits to playing like a team with championship aspirations.
At this time there appears to be one thing that could inspire this team to focus on quality basketball; and that is the pending matchups with rivals New York Knicks and Miami Heat in the coming days. In each opponent, the Celtics have an element of disdain; as the Knicks are hell bent on establishing themselves as the division’s new alpha dog, and the Miami Heat have proven to be the Celtics championship nemesis these past few seasons.
After the Celtics pass through this initial test, early February presents more incentive for team that needs it desperately; with a opportunity of revenge in their rematch against the Los Angeles Clippers as well as the annual visit of long-standing rival Los Angeles Lakers adding more fuel to their fire. When this string of games concludes, Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge should have a much sounder assessment of where this team is heading. If Boston cannot rise up and play inspired basketball against the likes of the Knicks, Heat, Clippers and Lakers, then the trade deadline may be an opportunity to begin breaking up this current incarnation and move forward with a new team dynamic.
As the month of February comes to an end, the Celtics will depart on a west coast trip that could prove to be a unifying opportunity for a team that has recently faced adversity or a team that is newly constituted. After all is said and done, by the time the March rolls around, Celtics’ fans will have a much clearer picture of what team will be heading into the playoffs. In a weak eastern conference, it is a near lock that the Celtics (in whatever form they may take) will be somewhere between a four and eight seed.
Before anyone can begin to look at likely playoff scenarios, the next three games will be the first indication of whether the recent self-criticism is just talk or if this team is prepared to act on their current vulnerabilities. I, for one still believe that a unifying factor like a heated rivalry may be a solid first step in changing this team’s current trajectory. If Boston begins to play inspired basketball and Doc Rivers can pull the right strings, this season is far from lost. If this next week and the subsequent games that follow are more of the same as what has transpired to date, then this long season will continue much to the disappointment of Celtic Nation.
Scott Duhaime is a passionate fan of the Boston Celtics and avid follower of the NBA for over 30 years; witnessing five of Boston’s 17 championships. His professional career includes a solid foundation of analytics that contributes to a better appreciation of player and team contributions.
Follow Scott on Twitter: @scott_duhaime
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