The scholarly literature on how to act after your team annihilates the Indiana Pacers by 51 is relatively thin, but it seems there are two directions we Celtics fans can go from here:
- The Celtics are invincible and are never going to lose
- This team must have a weakness, so we better find it before it’s too late
If you would like to indulge option one, doctors recommend only believing that your team is legitimately going to go 82-0 for 24 hours or less. That time can vary, but if you or a loved one experiences feelings that the Celtics will cruise to Banner 18 with a 96-0 overall record for more than a day or two, please seek immediate medical attention.
Option two, on the other hand, is central to Bostonian sports culture, and is what sets us apart from other fan bases, for better and definitely for worse. No matter how well things are going or how immortal a team may look, something in the water from the Quabbin Reservoir has hardwired my brain to look for weaknesses anyway. It’s a tortured existence, but that’s what we’re going to do today.
The Celtics looked unfathomably good against the Pacers Wednesday night, with their starting lineup dicing up defenders like fresh heirloom tomatoes. The Celtics top-five of Derrick White, Jrue Holiday, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kristaps Porzingis is the best lineup in the NBA until further notice, and—barring an injury—I’m not even sure who could make a play for the throne.
It’s not just that scoring looked easy, it looked completely free. Taking candy from a baby would be an understatement because at the least the baby can offer some futile resistance. The ease with which the Celtics scored on Indy was like if the baby had collected all its candy, put it in a bag and wrote “FER SELTIKS” on it in magic marker before dropping it off at TD Garden.
But because we are allergic to complacency, the ease with which the Celtics eviscerated the Pacers left me concerned. I have to be missing something… we all have to be missing something, right? Surely there must be something to work on that can keep the party going.
If you’re still in your doctor-approved 24-hour period of blissful belief in an undefeated season, I’d stop reading right here. For those of you up for it, here’s the number one possible weakness I could extract from Celtics-Pacers, as well as from the 4-0 start overall:
How does this team handle great players?
It’s inaccurate to say that the Celtics haven’t played any stars yet, as Jimmy Butler, Jalen Brunson and Bam Adebayo are definitely stars in my book, and Julius Randle might be depending on how rigidly you use that word. But are any of those guys truly great?
Greatness isn’t an easy word to apply to basketball players. Plenty of guys have had great careers, were once great but have since fallen off, or had singular great moments surrounded by relative inconsistency.
All four of the above guys fit that definition, but they aren’t the kind of great I’m worried about. Butler probably comes the closest but has had an oddly inconsistent career for all his playoff heroics. For our purposes, I’m talking about night-in-night-out game wreckers, or guys with an unbeatable thing.
Winning basketball games is ultimately a pretty simple question: is my thing better than your thing? These things can be a simple pick-and-roll with two guys, an off-ball motion system that makes it difficult to account for shooters, or all manner of ways teams try to gain an edge in such a talented league.
Through four games, I’m still not convinced that the Celtics will be able to handle some of the premier things in the NBA. Last year, they got torched by James Harden’s drive-and-throw-your-arms-into-a-defender-to-get-fouled thing, as well as by Butler’s low-block-turnaround thing and Joel Embiid’s free-throw-line-torture-chamber thing.
Against the Pacers and Wizards, the Celtics had to deal with exactly zero threatening things, so it’s impossible to know if those dominant performances are possible against transcendent guys. It very well might be, especially with Holiday and White holding down the backcourt like two defensive boogeymen giving opposing guards nightmares.
However, Bam Adebayo occasionally got his high-post-hook thing cooking, and it gave the Celtics real trouble. Porzingis is a great shot blocker because of his size, but is actually a pretty terrible post defender against more sophisticated moves. Against the premier giants of the East like Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Celtics may not be able to overwhelm them as they have so far.
The good news is this is all speculation. November 6th against the Timberwolves should provide some insight if Anthony Edwards can go superstar mode, but November 8th against the 76ers is the real game I’m circling. The Celtics struggled mightily containing both Tyrese Maxey and Embiid in the second round last year, and I’m anxious to see if Mazzulla and Co. have developed a 76ers-destroying strategy yet.
The Celtics will play lots of great players this year, and may face lots of very intimidating things in the playoffs come April. I’ll anxiously await the returns on my concern, but for now, I still have time left to believe the C’s will go 82-0.