The Boston Celtics were the talk of the 2018 NBA competition, finishing in second place, making a deep playoff run with home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, only to lose to the LeBron-led Cavaliers.
They were just ten minutes away from taking on the Golden State Warriors for an NBA title. All of this was done with a squad Danny Ainge hastily put together before the start of the 2017-18 season.
This deep playoff run was also done without the leadership and finesse of Kyrie Irving, the very man who was largely responsible for securing home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Yet who could forget Brad Stevens? One of the youngest coaches in the NBA, taking one of the youngest teams through the playoffs and one game shy of meeting the Warriors in the NBA Final. Many were predicting that Boston would be the team to beat this season and, with the return of Irving and Gordon Hayward, many thought they’d be the only team in the East to take out the Warriors.
How that has all changed.
26-18 isn’t a bad record, and it places the Celtics as fifth in the Eastern Conference, however compared to the expectations they’ve placed on themselves, it’s far from where they want to be.
The expectations they have aren’t unrealistic, they have the team to become NBA champions. They are capable. They are frustrated. In a recent game against the Orlando Magic, in a Boston timeout in the final seconds of the game, Kyrie was seen disagreeing with the play Stevens had drawn up.
At the final buzzer, Irving was seen criticising Hayward’s pass to Jayson Tatum, as if that wasn’t the play they planned. Irving then criticised the young squad in his post-match interview outside the locker room, which has earned him some major backlash in the wake of those comments.
He was then rested for the following game against Brooklyn.
What the Celtics need is the chemistry they had last season. They’ve just recently come off beating the Toronto Raptors at home, 117-108, and in that game they looked rather different to the team that lost to the Brooklyn Nets just days before.
In the Toronto game, Irving racked up a career high of 18 assists, as well as scoring 27 points, which is precisely what the young Celtics need from their leader. In that game you could see flashes of the potential this young squad has.
The win against the Raptors might just be the turning point that Brad Stevens and this Celtics group needs.
Their next big game is against Golden State on January 27th and, if the Celtics can build upon that win against Toronto and start finding that chemistry again, we might be, just might be, watching a preview of the NBA Championship in June.