The Celtics sit at 15-15 after 30 games, the first time their record has been .500 or worse through 30 games in six years. To say Boston is underachieving would be an understatement and their inconsistency in the NBA Bubble has carried over to this season. The Celtics have beaten playoff contenders such as the Bucks, Nuggets, and Clippers but have played poorly against bottom feeder teams and allowed the New Orleans Pelicans to complete their largest comeback in franchise history on Sunday after blowing a 24-point second-half lead. This all begs the question: What is wrong and can it be fixed?
The answer: the Celtics are one and a half pieces short and there does not appear to be any solutions on their roster. One and a half? In figuring that, the Celtics are short one major piece and one smaller bench piece. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have both played at an All-NBA level this season, with Tatum averaging 26 points, 4.6 assists and 7 rebounds per game while Brown has been averaging 25.5, 3.9 and 5.5. Beyond them, the Celtics have been a shell of the team that reached the Eastern Conference Finals three out of the last four years.
Boston dearly misses Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker has been wildly inconsistent in the games he has played this year. He scored 28 points and was a star against the Hawks on Friday before going 1-12 from three on Sunday and missing an open shot to tie the game in overtime. The Celtics have also missed Marcus Smart since he has been injured, but they were still close to a .500 team with him. The Celtics have had good moments from Daniel Theis and Robert Williams, but neither has provided a massive presence inside and the Celtics have received nothing of substance from their guards save for a few good weeks from rookie Payton Pritchard. Their bench has been dismal, ranking 29th in the league in scoring.
In order for Boston to reach the NBA Finals a few things need to happen. First, they need to get fully healthy, especially Walker and Smart. Second, they need to play more consistently. The Celtics have had a penchant for blowing big leads going back to last season. Third, and perhaps most difficult, Danny Ainge needs to add at least one piece to the bench or a major piece to the starting lineup. Ideally, he should add both, but with limited assets at the trade deadline he may only be able to choose one. If that’s the case he should aim for a true big man to help with rebounding who can also shoot, or a distributing guard who can facilitate to Tatum and Brown and help the Celtics inconsistent ball movement.
Tatum and Brown provide the Celtics with many reasons for optimism. They are a terrific duo that Steve Kerr compared to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry and Thompson have had Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and a host of other key pieces around them during the Warriors dynasty. Tatum and Brown do not have that. The clock is on for Ainge to find those pieces in order to build a Golden State of his own. If he can’t, we will look back on this Celtics era as a missed opportunity.