Watching the Celtics this season has been somewhat like navigating a high school math class.
One day, you’re feeling on top of the world. You ace a quiz, you’re grasping the material and you genuinely believe you can pull out an A like you did last year. The next day, you go in over-confident, bomb a quiz and start thinking the world is over.
You endure some head-scratching ups and downs all year, but you get back on track, bump your grade up to a B+ and get ready for the final that will ultimately determine your fate.
So, which is the outlier? Which one is really you? Are you an A student who had some off days, a C student with a few on days or an A-/B+ student who eventually ends up more or less where you should be? Are you destined to achieve your potential or fall victim to your habits?
Can the Celtics ace the final and pull out an A even after all these ups and downs? Which Celtics team will we see in the playoffs? 1) Juggernaut, 2) Great, but inconsistent, or 3) Mediocre?
Well, it’s hard to say, but there are some things we do know. For starters, the team has consistently struggled against weaker teams.
As this graphic shows, the Celtics have a head-scratching tendency to stoop to the level of their opponent. Anyone can beat anyone, especially this year, but there’s no reason whatsoever the Celtics should be losing to these team as often as they are.
Boston Celtics as favorites of 10 or more points since December 16:— Julian Edlow (@julianedlow) March 29, 2023
- 6-8 straight up
- 5-9 ATS
The team has a problem sleepwalking through games they know they are supposed to win handily.
The puzzling loss to the Wizards on Tuesday was simply the latest example. The Celtics have lost to the Magic three times, the Thunder by 33, the Rockets and now Washington, to name a few. That’s far from ideal.
Just when you think they’re starting to figure it out and return to juggernaut form, they regress considerably. It’s the exact opposite of last year, where they were exceedingly average, then legitimately one of the best teams in NBA history.
That team was inconsistently consistent. This team is consistently inconsistent. But, the good news for the Celtics is that there are no easy games in the playoffs. When everything is magnified, they still should have what it takes to advance deeper and deeper.
It’s fair to expect this team to rise to the occasion and play some of its best basketball in the postseason. There’s still no team more equipped to withstand the grind of a playoff run.
We weren’t able to stage a comeback tonight in DC. pic.twitter.com/LKq6zTvZTN— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 29, 2023
Having said that, it’s also fair to expect there to be some duds along the way. The good news is those clunkers only happen occasionally, so if they come out flat, say, once per series, that should still theoretically vault them to the next round each time.
They’re talented enough that their ceiling should win the war of attrition against their floor. Let’s say they play three great games per series, which seems reasonable; all they have to do is pull each of those out and win one other where they’re not necessarily at their best. That’ll likely be enough – at least in the first few rounds.
Then they’ll likely have to find the consistency that’s eluded them. That will be the ultimate test.
The Celtics haven’t given any indication that it will be a smooth and stress-free journey. But they’ve also given no indication they’re incapable of a deep run.
So, brace yourself for long and dragged-out series with ebbs and flows, twists and turns and unavoidable hiccups. It’s fair to expect them to be great, but inconsistent, then the end of the journey will show what this team is truly made of.
For fans able to endure the maddening ups and downs, this postseason could still yield fruitful results. Just don’t expect every night to be perfect. The Celtics could win by 20 one night and lose by 20 the next. That’s simply the reality, until they prove otherwise.
All they have to do is find a way to stay afloat, get to The Final(s) and save their best for last.