I can’t let the playoffs kick off without sharing my thoughts, but I don’t have any specific topics worth writing a feature article on. So of course, that means I default to one of my writing gimmicks: the scattered thoughts column.
Finals Loss Fury
Losing in the Finals was a tough pill to swallow for everyone. We were so close and yet came up short. Hat tip to Steph and the Warriors and all that, but it was right there and the Celtics didn’t finish the job.
That frustration led to furious offseason training regimens focused on getting back to the Finals and completing the mission. You could plainly see the results of that hard work and focus early in the season when the Celtics ripped through opponents with ease.
Of course, the regular season is a slog and over time, focus seemed to wane and effort occasionally came and went. They still finished with the 2nd best record and 2nd in both offensive and defensive efficiency. But the lulls were enough to raise some concerns.
Now that the playoffs are getting started, this team absolutely has to snap back into that focus that we saw at the start of the season. If the playoffs can’t provide the right motivation, I don’t know what can. I expect them to be clicking from Game 1.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are already considered two of the best players in the game. They have a chance to elevate themselves even higher. Although they are in the primes of their careers and very well could have several more shots at contending, none of that is guaranteed. Free agency, injuries, and any number of factors outside of their control could shrink their windows quicker than you would hope.
So, when you have a chance to win a championship, you have to seize that moment and prove to the world that you are the star that everyone says you are. If you keep coming up short, you start getting slotted into that next tier down level of star.
Big(s) if True
Speaking of injuries, a lot depends on the health and wellness of our top big men. Playoff rotations will require more minutes out of both of them, so we’ll see if the load management and conservative recovery plans throughout the year will pay off.
Al Horford has fought off Father Time in part by adapting his game to focus on 3-point shooting. Now that we’re into the playoffs, you might see him want to post up a little more often, but not so much that it wears him down.
Robert Williams seems to be getting healthy at the right time of year but all we can do is collectively knock on all the wood objects we can find. While the team is going to go as far as Tatum and Brown can take them, Robert has the ability to make their lives that much easier.
That Extra Guy(s)
A common lament out of the Finals was that we needed one more guy to get us over the top — preferably someone who could attack the paint without getting stripped repeatedly.
Brad Stevens went out and found one of the best rim attackers out there (who also happens to hit his fair share of 3-point shots) in Malcolm Brogdon. While at times he’s had trouble actually finishing his layups, he knows how to keep hitting the paint like a boxer works the body blows. Eventually the defense has to react and that leaves our shooters open.
As a bonus, I would submit that Derrick White was still very new to the team last season. He’s more than proved how valuable he can be given enough time to adjust. You could very well say that he had the 3rd best season of any Celtics player this year. I expect him to show up in a big way during these playoffs as well.
As much as I believe in the players noted above, sometimes they need just a little more help to push them over the top. Other teams have special players as well and occasionally your stars are going to have off nights. To survive and advance, sometimes you need a wildcard to step up and steal a game.
Example: Grant Williams hitting 7 three pointers to propel the Celtics past the Bucks in Game 7 last year. He has the potential to have that level of impact once again this season. Maybe not in the exact same way (but it wouldn’t hurt to hit another 7). He could provide a defensive spark, especially as we face some historically great big men coming up.
Another candidate to help us steal a win or two could be Sam Hauser. Aside from a two-month slump in the middle of the year, he’s been a flamethrower. If used effectively, he could shoot his team to a victory on any given night.
Love and Trust
Marcus Smart has been up and down this year, in part due to nagging injuries and in part due to the league wide shifting towards a more offensive dominated game. But the playoffs are where things get tighter, the game gets rougher, and the stakes go up exponentially. Basically, the exact environment where Smart tends to thrive. I love and trust Marcus to have a big postseason doing Marcus-type things.
Joe Mazzulla Under the Microscope
Leading his team to the 2nd best record was a pretty good debut for the rookie head coach. Of course, all that will be forgotten if the team can’t perform in the playoffs.
At times the impact of a head coach can be overblown, but in the playoffs game plans, rotations, adjustments, and counter-adjustments are that much more important. You have to win on the margins and every little bit counts.
He’s going to be matched up with some excellent coaches who have playoff experience. Will he be able to hold his own and give his team the edge that they need?
I’m ready. Let’s get this thing started!