Just when you think the Boston Celtics finally have turned the corner, this happens. Looking for their third straight win to get to .500 for the first time in more than a month, the underachieving Celtics did it again Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs. Not only did they fail to even their record, but they also found another way to lose in heartbreaking fashion with Jaylen Brown blowing a layup at the buzzer. It’s been a tough stretch in Boston and Wednesday’s loss showed changes need to be made.
The Boston Celtics can’t get out of their own way
Whether it’s blowing 19-point leads in the second half or it’s losing to the lowly Toronto Raptors in their home opener by admittedly not playing hard, the Celtics have arguably been the NBA’s biggest disappointment. Losing to the Spurs, who had lost four straight, just added to the misery of the 2021-22 season.
The Celtics were looking for their third straight win. After three straight losses, the Celtics stunned the Phoenix Suns with a convincing 123-108 victory in a New Year’s Eve matinee. They followed that up by outlasting the last-place Orlando Magic in overtime. A win over the Spurs would get Boston even at 19-19 and generate some momentum for a team led by two young All-Stars in Brown and Tatum.
Instead, the Celtics found another way to come up short as Brown intercepted an inbounds pass in the waning seconds with Boston trailing by two. Brown missed a contested layup as time wound down and Boston fell to 18-20.
“I smoked the layup,” Brown said, per ESPN. “I had a good steal, was going against the clock and I just blew the layup. … It’s a tough loss. What can you say? We’ve got another game (Thursday).”
Here’s why the Celtics need to make a change
The Brown/Tatum combo just isn’t working. It’s great to have two young All-Stars on the roster, but the Celtics aren’t getting any better with them. In fact, since their Eastern Conference Finals appearance against the Miami Heat in 2020, the Celtics have regressed. They finished last season at 36-36 and were ousted in the first round of the playoffs. Nearly halfway through this season, Boston can’t reach the .500 mark.
It’s been a challenging two seasons with a pandemic wreaking havoc, but every team is affected. Tatum and Brown have missed time for various reasons, but the Celtics thumped the West-leading Suns as Tatum was sidelined with his second bout with COVID-19. The Celtics are consistently inconsistent.
On Wednesday, the Celtics had their preferred starting five for only the ninth time this year. Tatum, Brown, Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, and Al Horford started. It’s a talented five, but they are 5-4 in those nine games. It’s a veteran group that somehow fails miserably in the consistency department. Consistency was a hot topic for Udoka prior to the game with the Spurs.
“You have a consistent, veteran group out there of guys that have been together quite a bit, obviously not this year but in the past,” Udoka said, according to NESN. “You just want to see that consistency from the start with those guys, and then you kind of fit our role players or our bench guys into those roles.”
The Celtics need to break up the Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown duo
It’s clear a change needs to be made in Boston. Maybe it should have been done a year ago since the problems remain the same. Last season, Kemba Walker complained about the team’s effort. A year ago, Brown was frustrated with the team’s ball movement. Smart called out Boston’s two All-stars earlier this year for not passing the ball. How long does Brad Stevens wait to make a move?
Dealing Tatum or Brown is the only way this team changes significantly. It’s not likely Boston will move Tatum, so Brown would be the guy to go should Stevens decide to let go of his loyalty to his players and look at the big picture. It’s not an easy move, but it’s one that makes sense for the future of the team. There’s nobody else on the team that will net the Celtics anything valuable via trade in order to build around the two.
With Brown and Tatum, the Celtics will remain in NBA purgatory. They are trending downward, and these one-and-done playoff appearances will keep Boston mired in mediocrity. They won’t be good enough to make a deep postseason run, yet won’t be bad enough to build through the draft.
What’s the sample size we need to show Tatum and Brown aren’t the answer? Zero Finals appearances together and a 54-56 regular-season record in the last two years is more than enough for me.