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The Celtics’ self-inflicted success

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How dare they lose games! 

Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Boston’s grip on the second seed in the East is slipping away. That’s the narrative currently circling social media. The team that many had written off as less talented and too young to contend for a championship even before the opening tip now stands trial among fans for perceived underachievement. How dare they lose games!

Danny Ainge has overseen one of the most meticulous rebuilding jobs in recent memory. Granted, the Brooklyn haul expedited this, but Ainge was the guy responsible for that trade and subsequently, making the picks that became franchise cornerstones Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart. And Brad Stevens has implemented culture and principles within the organization from a developmental standpoint, only missing out on the playoffs once during his seven-year tenure.

Despite their consistent success over the last seven seasons, both Ainge and Stevens are now becoming social pariahs because of it; fans are continually looking for their flaws rather than praising their brilliance. It may be frustrating when Ainge sits on his hands every trade deadline or when Stevens chooses to give a struggling star more leeway during crunch time, but they have earned the right to make those decisions. For Danny and Brad, every loss is seemingly another step towards basketball martyrdom.

Over the summer, fans had generally accepted that this would be a season of transition, a year that would allow Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to evolve into stars without the added pressure that contention brings. Gordon Hayward would be allowed time to find his role within the squad, while Kemba Walker could ingrain himself into Boston’s scheme on both ends of the floor.

The belief that this year wasn’t the year released the shackles from this team. The pressure was off. When the Celtics lost their Opening Night game against Philadelphia, it was begrudgingly accepted. The ensuing 10-game winning streak that included wins against Eastern Conference giants Milwaukee and Toronto is where expectations began to inflate.

As with all good things, that 10-game winning streak came to an end against the Kings. Panic and fury filled Twitter within seconds! How could a team this good ever lose to Sacramento? Alas, that panic soon subsided as Boston got back to winning ways in their very next game.

Since that loss to Sacramento way back in November, the team has posted 32 wins and 19 losses. Hardly a reason for slander, especially when the team subjected to that slander is the same team you didn’t expect to compete just a few months earlier.

When Boston is winning, the enthusiasm for the developmental leaps made by both Tatum and Jaylen engulf the social media circles of Celtics fans. Hayward gets discussed as a real x-factor for the team, while Kemba Walker gets viewed as the messiah that resurrected a toxic locker room.

If the score goes against Boston, then the narrative flips. Tatum can’t do this on his own, Hayward’s contract is terrible, and Kemba shouldn’t have played so much in the All-Star Game. Those statements are the most prominent you will find along with the newly fashionable take that Brad Wanamaker is the devil incarnate.

As with all opinions, truth resides somewhere in between. Yes, Kemba most likely did play too much during the All-Star break, and for all the improvements Tatum has made, he most certainly isn’t ready to shoulder the load on his own. But look at this logically: Boston has played less than 20 games at full strength this season, missing key players almost nightly, yet still hold a 42-21 record. They have literally won double what they have lost.

Playing the majority of the season shorthanded, the Celtics have still managed to implement a stingy defensive scheme that sees them currently ranked fourth in defensive rating according to StatMuse. On the offensive end, they have been just as impressive, sitting in the fifth spot.

A team without a “true center” or “elite scorer” is currently sitting in the top-4 of net rating. However, this doesn’t seem to count for much when they lose; instead, what’s most important is that Jamal Crawford or Isaiah Thomas aren’t currently on the roster.

Yes, it’s incredibly frustrating to watch the Celtics blow big leads or to see them shooting ridiculous threes when trying to get back into a game. Most notably, it was blood-boilingly bad during the “slow start” era of this season, but the team adapted and overcame those issues.

That’s what great teams do when faced with adversity: adapt and overcome. The Celtics have been doing that all season. As we enter the business end of the season, they need to be supported, not ostracized after every game.

Their overachieving expectations should be celebrated instead of ridiculed and abused by the very people they work so hard to impress. Don’t let this team become victims of their success, and more importantly, don’t let them become victims of their fans. It’s these moments that players remember when they enter free agency. Let’s not give these guys a reason to have their head turned later down the road.