The Celtics weren’t able to complete the sweep of their West Coast trip, but they were able to go 3-1 and stabilize what felt like a full blown implosion as the team entered the playoffs. From plane rides and apologies to resilience and potential lineup changes, here are some takeaways from the latest trip.
Kyrie Irving found some inner peace
Being the leader of a team is hard. Being the leader of a team that’s underachieving is even harder, especially in the information era where the news cycle has a way of making sure that every fire is fed gasoline. Coming back from All-Star weekend, the team came out flat, starting 1-5 with some ugly losses along the way. Guys were pressing, fans were antsy, but above all else there was a noticeable difference in Kyrie Irving’s demeanor. Kevin O’Connor confirmed our suspicions with a piece on how “disengaged and detached” Irving was acting around the team and things only looked to get worse as the team was heading on a trip out west with a sub .500 road record.
However, when the team got on the West Coast trip, things were different. Kyrie Irving had a new approach, opting to use the long plane ride to engage with his teammates which seemed to lift the spirits all around. Irving personally addressed the situation with Yahoo’s Chris Haynes:
“I had to get off of Instagram, I had to get off of Facebook, I had to get off of Twitter. I had to get off of those things to disconnect myself to focus on me, rather than getting information and validation from everyone else. So, once that started to progress, then I had a lot to fight back about. I was just sick of it after a while. I’m a human being who happens to be a hooper. This is the responsibility that I have. I’m done complaining about it. I have feelings about it, but I’m not going keep badgering the media, keep badgering other people, keep badgering this or that. It’s about moving forward and keeping my sanctuary as safe as possible.”
The team responded by playing its best basketball, clearly feeding off the more positive energy of their leader. We’ll see if Irving can continue his approach throughout the course of the regular season and into the playoffs, but one thing that became clear is that this teams spirit rests in his head and it’ll be important for him to keep a positive mindset to unlock best of the Celtics.
Steadying the Tide
Building off of good vibes, the Celtics also attained some newfound resiliency when other teams landed haymakers of their own. It started in Sacramento where after a key miscommunication between Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, De’Aaron Fox was able to waltz to the rim unchallenged to cut a Boston lead to one possession late in the 4th.
Near the end of the video you see Smart stop himself in the middle of his tirade. He then, dapped up with Brown, the team moved on and Tatum got a couple of FT’s on the next possession.
In the game against the Lakers, the Celtics watched a 17-point lead in the 3rd quarter dip all the way to slim 5-point lead in less than 5 minutes of game time. This is usually a time where the team would fall all over itself, opting to trust their own abilities rather than the teams system. Instead, the team responded with a 19-7 run to close out the quarter and completely erase any trace of a Lakers' run.
The Marcus Morris question
It’s crazy to think that at one point this year, the Celtics were marketing Marcus Morris as a potential All-Star candidate. Things have not gone well for Morris since the new year and there has been no signs he will get better. In that time, Morris is shooting 41.9% from the field and 31.3% from three on 5.3 attempts. He is also the only rotation player on the team with a negative net rating (-1.4) in that time.
Stevens, to his credit, has tried to stick with the veteran. Mook is a key voice in the locker room and someone who was a vital piece helping the Celtics stabilize their season after a 10-10 start. But the writing is on the wall. Morris’ time as starter should be coming to an end. The next question is if you take him out, who do you replace him with?
The Celtics could go in a number of directions. They can return to a two-big lineup and bring Baynes back. It worked well last year and allows Horford to roam around the perimeter. You could also bring Gordon Hayward back who is starting to regain some of his confidence back offensively. He adds a level of additional playmaking and is one of the more intuitive cutters on the team. The other option is brining back Jaylen Brown to the starting lineup. The Celtics did it last night and he stood out well, netting 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals.
Since coming back from his injury on December 5th, Brown has averaged 13.6ppg and 4.5rpg on 47.9/35/70.9 splits with the team being 5.2 points per 100 possession better when he’s on the court. Playing on the second unit allowed him to find his rhythm again and he has been able to use his newfound confidence to excel off the bench or starting. Prior to the West Coast trip, Stevens had played Brown the entire 4th quarter in multiple games. As Irving said after the game against the Clippers, Brown is “peaking at the right time” and it may be time to pair his surge with a promotion.