As KG said, “Anything is possible.” But I didn’t expect a season like this to unfold. After losing in the ECF, the Celtics knew they had to prepare for 2021. With the Lakers winning the Finals and the East getting stronger, all eyes were on Danny Ainge. Throughout the offseason, 2 names were mentioned repeatedly; Gordon Hayward and Myles Turner. Hayward became a UFA and was asking for a lot of money. Also, there were rumors of the Pacers trading Myles Turner. The plan was for the Celtics to sign and trade Hayward for Turner and McDermott. Everything looked perfect for the C’s. However, Danny wanted either Oladipo or T.J. Warren instead of McDermott. Ainge’s greed led to the Pacers’ end the discussions and having Hayward get signed and traded to Charolette. This would spark the start of a very unlucky and unpredictable season for the Green Team.
After the Opening Night win against the Milwaukee Bucks, things actually looked alright for the Celtics. In the first 10 games of the season, they went 7-3 and were on a 4 game winning streak. But the fun soon ended when the arch rival Lakers came to town in January. Early in the 4th quarter of a tight game, Marcus Smart went up for a rebound against Montrezl Harrell. After coming down and taking an awkward step forward for the 2nd chance rebound, Smart yelled and went to the ground. In pain, Marcus was grabbing his left calf and there was a possibility of him tearing his achilles. Celtics go on to play without him and lose 96-95. The next day, reports came out of Smart having a left calf strain, and would be out 2-3 weeks. Unexpectedly, this would mark the start of a miserable portion of the season.
The Lows and The Very Lows
Within the next month or so after Marcus Smart’s injury, the Celtics could never find a rhythm. It would be win, loss, win, loss or they would go on 2-3 game losing streak. The game that really epitomized this part of the season came after an absolute beatdown by the Atlanta Hawks in late February. Not only did Trae Young have himself a 30+ point night, but Danilo Gallinari came off the bench and turned into Stephen Curry for the night. Danilo dropped 38 points, 13 for 16 from the field and 10 for 12 from downtown. This gave the Celtics their 3rd straight loss, where the previous 2 came from blowing a 24 point lead against the Pelicans and a Luka 3 with 0.1 seconds left. Celtics had then lost 8 of their last 11 games and were a team below .500, something that hadn’t happen in 6 years.
It was clear that each Celtics game had a similar plot: play well in the first 2 or 3 quarters, go down by double digits, have a close comeback in the last few minutes, and then lose grip in the final moments of the game. Ever since Smart’s injury, the Celtics went 5-9 and were 15-17. With the Celtics almost at the halfway point of the season, changes had to be made to the roster. Ainge knew in order to stop this inconsistent season, he had to remove players before the trade deadline and add players that’ll put the team in a better place.
Change in Direction
After the Atlanta loss, all eyes were on Danny Ainge. It was clear that the team wasn’t good enough, even without Smart and Kemba getting rest. Although, it should be worth mentioning that the Celtics have been very unlucky with COVID. As of 4/11, they lead the league with 137 days missed by players who were listed on the COVID-related injury list. For instance, Tristan Thompson came back from COVID for the first time in nearly a month on April 7th. In addition, Evan Fournier missed his 6th straight game due to COVID as the C’s faced the Lakers last night in what turned out to be an ugly win. However, in the month of April, the Celtics have won 7 of their last 8 games and are on a 5 game winning streak, tieing their longest this season. With the win, they’re now in possession of the 5th seed.
If the Celtics really want to avoid the frightening new play-in tournament, it would be ideal for them to continue playing at the level they’re at. Starting today, the C’s have a month to stay in the top 6 of the Eastern Conference. If this hot streak continues all the way to the playoffs, the Celtics might have themselves another great playoff run. However, if they fall apart and go back to being inconsistent, we might witness a team that’ll either earn the 7/8 seed or misses the playoffs.
As a Celtics fan, I still believe this team can turn things around, but they’ll have to play their best basketball in order to get back to the ECF. To do so, everyone needs to stay healthy and be locked in. If not, it’ll be a long offseason for Boston.