A few days ago, we ran an NBA 2K22 sim to see how the game feels about the 2021-22 Boston Celtics. In case you missed it, you can check it out here — in short, it ended a little anticlimactically. Well, today we are back in the lab and ready to put together a more successful (virtual) Celtics season. We’ve got a gameplan set up and we’re gonna see how much the team can improve.
Let’s review the changes we’re making to this sim. For starters, the AI will no longer be able to make trades. Unfortunately, that means no more Atlanta Super Hawks, but the trade logic is just too warped in 2K for it to give us a believable sim. I kicked around the idea of allowing myself to make a deal or two at the trade deadline, but ultimately decided against it for the same reason. I guarantee you I could turn Josh Richardson into Draymond Green with minimal effort. In fact, let me pull up the game really quick...
...and there you have it.
So, no trades. But this time, I will be able to alter the lineup as I see fit. Call it the Richardson Rule; Richardson was so bad through two-thirds of that first sim that he simply would not have held onto a starting role for as long as he did. A more minor change is that we’re setting our third scoring option to “no preference,” in the hopes that it will diversify the offense a little bit. A few minor tweaks to the minutes distribution in the rotation, and we’re good to go.
We’re gonna scrap the month-by-month breakdown this time and just hit the most noteworthy points before we get to the playoffs. Not to spoil anything, but let me tell you, this one was a wild ride.
This was a significantly better Celtics team than the one we saw in the first sim. By the end of December, they sat at 21-15, third in the Eastern Conference. Most notable, though, is the point differential: after clawing their way to a +2.4 in the first attempt, this team is rocking a +7.1 over two months into the season. That’s a figure more befitting of a team that could make some noise in the playoffs.
Notably, our newly installed Richardson Rule actually did not come into play here. The sim was a lot more kind to Richardson this time around, as he started out the season shooting a much more palatable .443/.372/.952. Dennis Schröder, meanwhile, still provided some steady scoring, but the red hot three-point shooting he showed in the first sim regressed down to a .303 mark and closer to his career norms.
The All-Star break arrives, and the Celtics have cooled a bit. They’re now fifth in the East at 33-27. Jayson Tatum makes the All-Star roster, of course. However, despite shooting every bit as well as the first time, Jaylen Brown is snubbed once again. Seriously, this is two consecutive sims where he shot like Kevin Durant and didn’t get an invite to Cleveland. Somehow this game loves and hates Jaylen in equal measure. Tatum wins the Three-Point Contest, which is something I would very much like to see in real life this season.
The Celtics hustle backwards in the closing months of the season. Despite significantly improving their point differential from the last sim (+4.4), they finish a game worse at 44-38 and end up claiming the sixth seed in the conference. Tatum makes third team All-NBA, but no other awards attention comes Boston’s way. Please respect Jaylen Brown, NBA 2K.
Nevertheless, it’s on to the main event. The Milwaukee Bucks await in the first round of the playoffs.
First Round: Celtics 4, Bucks 3
Now this, I did not expect! The Celtics get to play giant-slayer, downing the defending champs in a tense seven-game series. It was largely a very close affair, with four of the seven games coming down to the wire, and the Celtics enjoyed a number of big performances from unlikely contributors. Al Horford led the Celtics with 31 points(!) in a 108-104 victory in Game 3, while Schröder and Marcus Smart led the team in scoring in Games 6 and 7, respectively.
And then, satisfyingly, the Celtics showed up to Game 7 and ran Milwaukee off the court. On to Round Two, where the Chicago Bulls (a surprising two-seed) await.
Second Round: Celtics 4, Bulls 3
The Cardiac Celtics ride on! Two playoff series, two Game 7’s, two wins. Boston returned to their Jay-centric offense in this series, riding the duo throughout an insanely close series. Game 4 stood out as an absolute barn-burner; Tatum and Brown combined for a nice 69 points, edging out 47 from Zach LaVine to claim a 139-136 win. Game 7, meanwhile, was decided by one single point.
So the 44-win Celtics have sent the second and third seeds in the Eastern Conference packing in consecutive rounds. Their reward? None other than the top-seeded Brooklyn Nets.
Eastern Conference Finals: Nets 4, Celtics 2
Alright, fair enough. If the miracle run is gonna end, it may as well come at the hands of the superteam (who, in a virtual, COVID-free existence, are at full strength). The Celtics fell into an 0-2 hole to start things off, before tying the series back up at home in Boston. As they say, though, it’s not a series until someone wins on the road, and the Celtics failed to accomplish that in an overtime heartbreaker in Game 5.
At least the Celtics lost to the eventual champs, I suppose. The Nets moved on to the NBA Finals to face the Los Angeles Clippers (who claimed LA supremacy over the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals) and won the series in six games. James Harden won Finals MVP, and that’s all she wrote for our second and final 2K sim.
What did we learn?
Well... nothing. This is 2k we’re talking about, after all; it’s not exactly the pinnacle of sports simulation. The funny thing is that, despite all the miserable emphasis on monetization at the expense of new features, the game’s franchise mode is still pretty solid. There’s actually the potential for a lot more here; the game does still give you the tools to deepen the experience via custom rosters and the like. Perhaps that’s something to explore in the future.
For now, though, this was just a fun little exercise. Real-life basketball is back, and with it comes the human element of sports that compels us in ways a simulator can’t capture. Here’s hoping the Boston Celtics enjoy a more successful ride than their virtual counterparts (though if Jaylen Brown wants to shoot 45% from three, I doubt any of us will complain).