For the most part, the Boston Celtics hope to pick off where they left off before All-Star Weekend. Although the Celtics lost their final game heading into the break, they rattled off nine straight wins and got themselves back in the thick of the playoff hunt.
Boston comes out of the gate for the second half with a healthy group, something rarely seen in the first half. A healthy and confident group could make things interesting in the race for the Eastern Conference crown.
The Boston Celtics look to brush aside an ugly first half of the season
It’s tough to get an accurate read on who the Celtics really are. Led by their young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, they have the talent to make noise in the Eastern Conference. They’ve struggled to do so.
After reaching the conference finals in 2020, the Celtics have been nothing but mediocre. A year ago, they finished 36-36, and the Brooklyn Nets bounced them in the first round of the playoffs. This year, they’ve hovered around the .500 mark most of the season until their impressive win streak. With those nine straight wins, they still sit in sixth place in the conference.
The first 50 games this year have been rough for Boston. Playing under first-year coach Ime Udoka, the Celtics struggled to find their identity. On several occasions, Udoka questioned the team’s effort as the Celts struggled out of the gates.
Veteran point guard Marcus Smart showed his frustration after an ugly loss to the Chicago Bulls when the Celtics blew a 19-point lead late in the third quarter. Smart publicly called out Tatum and Brown for not passing the ball enough. The team, like many others, was also affected by COVID-19 and injuries, rolling out a number of different lineups throughout the year.
The Boston Celtics are healthy and ready to roll
The Celtics came up short, falling 112-111, to the Detroit Pistons in the final game before the break. They were without two starters — Smart and center Robert Williams. Smart injured his ankle in a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers last week, while Williams missed a couple of games due to a calf issue.
Both players are expected back when the second half resumes with a road game against the Brooklyn Nets.
“They both practiced today, looked good today, I expect them to play,” Ime Udoka said Wednesday, per MassLive.
The Celtics will have a healthy starting five against the Nets, who will be short-handed, just as they were the last time the teams met. Boston cruised to a 126-91 win on Feb. 8. Brooklyn will be without Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons, Goran Dragic, and Joe Harris.
Boston is 17-6 when its starting five of Tatum, Brown, Horford, Williams, and Smart open the game. The Celtics have been in a groove in the last month, and having Smart and Williams back should help keep that momentum riding high into the home stretch.
Udoka hopes to ‘continue to build’ offensively
The Celtics hope the second half of the season with three straight road games, starting with Thursday’s tilt in Brooklyn. Boston has found its success with its defense, with only two teams breaking the 100-point mark during the Celtics’ nine-game streak.
While Udoka hopes to ride that defense, he hopes to keep building on the offensive side of the ball.
“Build on the things we did well, we’ve done well going into the break,” Udoka said. “Keep that momentum up. Defensively, we’ve been really good and obviously want to keep that up but also improve in certain areas.
“Offensively, continue to build. We’ve gotten into the top 10 over the last 25 or so games and want to improve in that area. And so today was more of a mini training camp just to kind of refresh our minds on the things that we’re doing well, get up and down, and bang bodies a little bit as far as that.
But the focus will be, obviously, game-specific starting with Brooklyn.”
If the Celtics can keep up that momentum they built right before the break, they should be right in the thick of things when the playoffs roll around.