The Boston Celtics have had a fully healthy roster for five consecutive games for the first time in the history of basketball. It’s a refreshing feeling coming out of a four-month off-season fugue with no sports to distract us from how terrible everything is.
“This can only be a good thing,” I thought, foolishly, assuming good health would fix the Celtics’ issues of inconsistency and depth.
Let’s talk Ewing Theory. In short, the Ewing Theory takes effect when a team plays better without their star player, whether they’re injured or no longer on the team. The Celtics stretched the limits of the Ewing Theory during their Hospital Celtics run that took them to the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals before playing out a wholly disappointing season with their star players back on the court.
This season tested that theory in some new ways. The issue of chemistry has been largely resolved, while the issue of freak accidents injuring the players has not. The Celtics went 9-4 after Gordon Hayward broke his hand running into LaMarcus Aldridge. Without the help of Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum carried the squad to wins in Minnesota, Utah, and Portland on a Western Conference road trip where the team suffered a one-point loss to the Lakers (what is goaltending, anyway?) and a two-point loss in Houston. The team is 11-4 without Kemba, and they’ve looked really good when he doesn’t play.
Is this Ewing Theory in motion or is there a unique sense of urgency that drives certain players to step up in a time of greater need?
We can’t ignore that the eight worst teams weren’t invited to the bubble. And you know what? I don’t feel bad. The quality of these games has been incredibly high. We’re not in the playoffs yet, but these seeding games are basically the playoffs-lite. The Portland Trail Blazers are playing every game like a Game 7. The Brooklyn Zombie Nets are a classic “nobody believes in us” group of role players looking to prove everybody wrong. The Phoenix Suns are undefeated and looking to make the post season for the first time in nearly a decade!
Teams are out for blood in the bubble, but the Celtics have been more or less comfortably nestled into the #3 seed since the restart. They came to Orlando three games behind the Raptors and two and a half ahead of Miami and that’s exactly where they’ll finish.
There’s also their tendency to play down to the level of the competition. It somewhat contradicts the idea that every team is really competitive, but not so much when the Celtics squeak by the Orlando Magic while they’re missing three starters. This isn’t a problem unique to the Celtics, although I’d argue they’re more guilty of it than other historically good teams. If Boston is matched up against the injury-riddled Philadelphia 76ers in the first round, they’ll be absolutely sunk if they play as nonchalantly as they did against the Magic.
Let’s give credit where it’s due. One player in particular has played every single minute with high intensity: Jaylen Brown.
Leaders in my wins above replacement player (WARP) metric from seeding games. pic.twitter.com/E4PDTAkFMP— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) August 10, 2020
WARP is a weird stat to me, as it factors wins--a team accomplishment--into an individual player’s rating. Still, Jaylen ranking 15th in the bubble is a well-deserved placement.