One step forward, two steps back: that about sums up the Boston Celtics’ 2021-22 season to date.
Every time the Celtics pick up an impressive win, or show flashes of brilliance to reel fans back in, they tend to do something equally as dismal the next time on the floor.
At the halfway point of a wildly disappointing campaign, it’s becoming increasingly evident that the current group in Green doesn’t have what it takes to consistently perform at a high level.
Nothing they’ve done over the past 40-plus games suggests that they’re able to execute a game plan for a full 48 minutes on a given night.
Have they played well in spurts? Absolutely. That tells me that the talent level is there in some capacity; it tells me that the Celtics are capable of beating good teams and even putting a scare in a top-tier contender when they’re rolling.
But for whatever reason, it’s an unsustainable phenomenon for first-year head coach Ime Udoka’s squad.
Take this head-scratching stat for example: in the 13 games in which the Celtics have held at least a 19-point lead this season, four have resulted in losses; in the four seasons prior to this one, they’ve dropped exactly four contests with such leads.
Boston nearly blew yet another double-digit lead in Monday night’s 101-98 overtime win against an Indiana Pacers team that had dropped six of seven coming into TD Garden. It shouldn’t have been that close.
“I felt most of the first half we weren’t as crisp as we could’ve been,” Udoka said following the ugly win. “I felt like we were kind of going through the motions.”
Udoka is right, and let’s be honest: if they had wound up losing would anyone be surprised? They simply can’t close out games in satisfying fashion, and more often than not, they look utterly lost offensively down the stretch of tight contests.
Udoka recently stated that his team “lacks mental toughness”. Starting big man Robert Williams admitted that the Celtics tend to “get rattled” when things aren’t going well. And who can forget when Marcus Smart called out both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for not passing the ball in crunch time?
There’s no way around it: Boston has been a mess since the season commenced back in October — and really, they’ve been a mess since the beginning of last season. The franchise tried changing coaches; that hasn’t worked. They tried bringing in old friend Al Horford and newcomers like Dennis Schroder and Josh Richardson, whom, to their credit, have actually been solid but have not done nearly enough to right the ship.
So what’s the solution? Is it time to completely blow things up?
I’m not so sure —and apparently, the Celtics aren’t ready for that yet either.
According to a report on Monday from The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the Celtics “have indicated to rival teams that they want to build around Tatum and Brown and have no interest to split up the two all-star forwards right now.”
Now, I’m not going to sit here and say that Boston would benefit from dealing either Tatum or Brown, far and away the team’s two best players. But a major shake-up is clearly necessary.
There’s a number of teams across the league with all-star level talent and sub-.500 records, Boston (now 20-21) included. What the Celtics need to reach that next level can not be found within their current roster.
The Celtics need a true point guard (Marcus Smart is not that guy) to run the show and put both Tatum and Brown in the best possible position to be effective. They need wings with size who can defend, shoot and help spread the floor when their stars attack the paint (Grant Williams currently leads the team in 3-point FG percentage at 42.5 percent, but averages just over seven points per game).
Most importantly, Boston needs to play with confidence from start to finish. They need to compete with an edge, believe they’re the better team on any given night, and prove that with all-out effort, intensity and execution.
Boston is extremely bent, but perhaps not broken just yet. I wouldn’t necessarily expect a blockbuster type trade before the February 10th deadline, but a couple of smaller swaps or free agency additions should undoubtedly be in the franchise’s plans before the year is up.
Former Mr. Fourth Quarter himself, Isaiah Thomas, is still available. Just something to think about.
Nick Giannino can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @NickGiannino_SN.