“A long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last”
Yup. I went to the Counting Crows well twice in one day. They’re a great band and it’s a great song. It also perfectly describes the current month of basketball for the Boston Celtics, as well as what might be to come.
The Celtics finished November at 11-10. Not great, but there were a couple of overtime losses and a few others were Boston got nipped late. There was reason for optimism, but worries of a tough December schedule loomed.
Those worries proved to be valid, as the Celtics have stumbled to a 5-9 month, with a game against the defending Western Conference champs, the Phoenix Suns, remaining.
The schedule for December featured 15 games. Outside of a 28-point drubbing at the Portland Trail Blazers, every game was against a team that is in at least Play-In position in their conference. Included in there was a five-game west coast trip, where Boston went 1-4.
On what should have been the plus side, the Celtics road-heavy schedule to start the season flipped mid-month. Boston went 3-2 on a five-game homestand. In the losses, they were right there with the Golden State Warriors and also fell to the Philadelphia 76ers in a game where Enes Freedom played 40 minutes.
Since that homestand, when the Celtics were sitting at .500, things have gone sideways. Boston collapsed in Milwaukee on Christmas Day. They lost to the “Timberwolves” in Minnesota. And then on Wednesday, the Celtics literally shot themselves into a loss at home against the LA Clippers.
Anyone who tells you they know if Boston will win or lose the final home game of 2021 is delusional. This team is completely unpredictable. Should the Phoenix Suns be able to get a road win on New Years Eve? Absolutely. But it’s a 1 PM ET tip. And that’s for a west coast team that just traveled east. And the Suns are starting to lose key players to the health and safety protocols.
Oh yeah…the protocols.
Boston went through that mess themselves throughout the month of December. As of this writing, only four regular (meaning non-hardship) Celtics have avoided a trip into the protocols this season: Romeo Langford, Payton Pritchard, Marcus Smart and Robert Williams.
It’s fair to point out that every team has been hit hard with players in the protocols, but it’s certainly factored into at least a couple of Boston losses.
“there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last”
The changing of the calendar from one year to the next is symbolic for many reasons. For some it’s all about resolutions to improve some facet of their life. For others, it’s a fresh start of a new year. Often, everything that has gone wrong can be left behind in the outgoing year, while the new year ushers in promise and hope.
This isn’t a suggestion that the change from 2021 to 2022 will fix all that ails the Celtics. No can be that naïve. But, as the song says: there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.
Boston’s strength of schedule over their remaining 47 games is the third-easiest in the NBA. They start the new year with six straight games against teams with losing records. Yes, the Celtics also have a losing record, but this could, and should, be a chance to get things moving in the right direction.
Boston also has only nine remaining games against the six best teams in the league (Golden State, Phoenix, Utah, Brooklyn, Chicago and Milwaukee). There are a lot of games coming over the next three-and-a-half months that Boston should win. That includes seven games against teams that are tanking and will be jockeying for lottery positions throughout the rest of the season.
Even the road games don’t look quite as daunting. There’s another west coast trip, but that one goes Warriors (tough), Kings (easier, but tricky for Boston in recent years), Nuggets (tough) and Thunder (should be a win). There are two road games at Brooklyn, but the Nets won’t have Kyrie Irving for those games. Outside of the final stretch, which features three in a row on the road at Chicago, Milwaukee and Memphis, Boston should do alright away from home.
And, of course, there is always a hope for better health. We have no idea what to expected with the protocols, but given that most of the team has spent time in them, the hope is that won’t repeat in the second half of the season.
Injury-wise, the Celtics are in pretty good shape. Something will absolutely come up, but the hope is that there is enough depth to get through it.
Finally, there could be trades. This is the first trade deadline with Brad Stevens at the helm. We don’t really know what to expect. Stevens was aggressive this offseason, and there’s reason to believe that could continue into the deadline. We’ll have an in-depth primer coming soon that covers everything Stevens is working with, but he’s got the tools to make a pretty swing.
The trade deadline is six weeks away. In general, things don’t really pick up until we’re about two weeks out. That gives the Celtics one month, essentially the entirety of January, to convince Stevens it’s worth investing in this team as a playoff contender. Otherwise, the decision may be to look towards a retool with the future in mind.
Just to cover all of our bases, if things continue as they did through chunks of December, Stevens may want to move sooner, rather than later. Insiders all over the NBA are hinting that there are issues with the Celtics that are deeper than their record. You can work past those if you win. As losses mount, so does the pressure to change things.
It’s certainly been a long December, but there is still reason to believe that this year will be better than the last. You just have to look a little harder, and overlook a little more, to get there. If nothing else, the next six weeks should help to set a direction. Not only for the rest of the 2021-22 season, but for the future as well.