The Celtics are a Team on the Rise

Will Talbot, Contributing Writer

The uniqueness of this NBA season, which was shortened by the unfortunate circumstances of the Pandemic, has allowed me to watch more of the playoffs than I usually am able too. Instead of being held during final exams and early summer vacations, the NBA Playoffs are taking place this year at Walt Disney World in the form of a COVID-19 safe “bubble.” The timing of their season has also changed, with the tournament now occurring in the late summer and early weeks of school. Because of this, my friends and I have had more time to watch the games. Over mid-March to late-July, I built up much of my anticipation for the games by watching videos from informative NBA Youtube channels, especially KO4TQ and Sporting Logically.

Now that the majority of their season is finished, it is clear to say that the Boston Celtics are a team on the rise. They have been a source of excitement and solace for Boston Sports fans in a year of hardship for the Boston Metro area. COVID-19 has had a massive impact on Boston sports, and led to the cancellation of many youth, amateur, and minor-league sports after mid-March. This disappointment for Boston sports fans was exacerbated when two of the faces of Boston sports, Mookie Betts and Tom Brady, left to join other teams. The Celtics are an incredibly young team, with no players over the age of 31; additionally, the players have not been on the court together for a long time. Marcus Smart, the current longest-tenured Celtic, was drafted by the team in 2014, and all but four of the team’s players did not return to the team after the 2016-2017 season. Unsurprisingly, the team has had some struggles in the playoffs. They have failed to utilize advantageous 10+ point leads, while struggling to find consistent bench depth beyond Brad Wanamaker. Making matters worse, they have even had a little bit of locker-room trouble this season.

In the face of all of this however, the Celtics have built a strong, cohesive playoff starting line-up that has performed consistently well, putting them in a good position to make the NBA Finals. They are currently down 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals against a very deep Miami Heat squad (two former Celtics, Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk, play major roles for Miami), but at the moment hope exists for them.

Kemba Walker, an All-Star point guard, who spent his first eight years on a struggling Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets team leads the unit. Walker’s addition is a strong one, as he won the NCAA Tournament as a member of the UCONN Huskies, an impressive feat to say the least. Gordon Hayward, a usual starter and solid shooter who played for coach Brad Stevens at Butler, has just returned to the court after injuring his ankle in the Celtics’ first playoff game. This has led Smart to take the position of starting line-up. As one of the best wing defenders in the league, Smart has achieved two great shooting performances in the playoffs, making five 3-pointers in a row in the fourth quarter of Game Two at the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Raptors. He also hit clutch free throws to win Game 3 against the Heat. Finally, he crucially blocked a lay-up from the Raptors’ Norman Powell with less than a minute left in Game 7. Next in the line-up are two #3 draft picks, who have turned into great players for the team. Jason Tatum has steadily improved over each of the three years he has been in the league, averaging 23.4 points this season, becoming the second player in NBA history to accomplish this after his mentor the late Kobe Bryant. Jason Tatum is now, very deservedly, the face of the franchise and perhaps of Boston sports in general. In Game 7, he has garnished 25-points, 10-rebounds, and 5-assists. Jaylen Brown may have less upside than Tatum, but he still is a feisty defender, elite rim finisher, and great dunker. Despite his spotty 3-point shooting and occasional late-game mistakes, I think he is super-underrated and crucial to the team’s success. He has also been a vocal advocate for racial justice, driving 15-hours to Atlanta to lead a peaceful protest. The line-up is rounded out by Daniel Theis, a solid center from Germany who plays really hard and can space the floor.

Although the Celtics could use some more bench depth, they have an incredibly young group, with many players of strong potential. Brad Wanamaker, who played almost a decade in the D/G-league and European leagues, finally gained a consistent role on an NBA team this year, providing a little of everything from the wing. Robert “Time-Lord” Williams has broken out this year to become an efficiently-shooting back-up center, although veteran scorer Enes Kanter has gained his minutes in recent games. Grant Williams, a rookie from Tennessee who is known for his great work ethic and enthusiastic locker-room presence, has gained minutes at the 5 as well because of his great defense; although he missed two free throws near the end of Game 7 against the Raptors (he was in because Theis fouled out), he was unfazed and made up for it by blocking Fred Vanfleet’s 3-point attempt soon afterwards. Finally, Tacko Fall is a fan-favorite who will hopefully get a better chance to show off his post skills next season.

This season is already a success for the Celtics in my books, but I would love for them to cap it off with a Championship! They have a lot of heart and hopefully they prove themselves to be one of the best teams in the years to come.