Despite the Chaos, Ugliness, and Injuries, the Boston Celtics are Still the Team to Beat in the East
The Boston Celtics have had a season’s worth of drama in a week. Gone is head coach Ime Udoka. Danilo Gallinari is likely to miss the entire season after tearing his ACL during a summer game in Italy. Center Robert Williams III will also be out of action longer than expected after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his balky knee.
Things have not gone according to plan in Boston. Despite all the noise, the Celtics are much further ahead than they were at this time last season, a year they reached the NBA Finals. Distractions or no distractions, the Celtics are still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
The Boston Celtics learned a lot last season
As chaotic as this week has been for the Celtics, they went through a lot last season in Udoka’s first year as head coach. They underachieved more than half of the year, going 25-25 through the first 50 games. That came after Boston finished 36-36 the previous season and was bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
Not only were wins tough to come by early last season, but there was plenty of drama. Veteran point guard Marcus Smart publicly called out stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown after a game, saying the two never passed the ball.
Udoka often questioned his team’s effort. On several occasions, the Celtics blew significant leads late in the game. Questions arose about whether Tatum and Brown could play together.
Those questions were answered in January. The Celtics made their in-season turnaround by the end of the month, finishing the season with a 26-6 mark. Tatum and Brown proved they could co-exist as the Celtics raced up the standings to snag the East’s No 2 seed.
The Celtics survived a grueling playoff schedule, winning two series in seven games. They lost in six games to the Golden State Warriors in the Finals, despite Tatum and Brown struggling in the spotlight. The Celtics know what it takes to get to the championship round, and they’re hungry to make a return trip.
The Celtics are still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference
They’re not slam-dunk favorites, but the Celtics are still the team to beat in the East. A year ago, Boston’s biggest problem was depth. The Celtics used an eight-man rotation throughout the postseason and seemingly ran out of gas.
Brad Stevens quickly addressed that problem in the offseason. He swung a deal for veteran guard Malcolm Brogdon without giving up any core pieces. He then signed Gallinari, a proven scorer, to come off the bench. Although Gallinari’s injury will likely keep him out the entire season, the addition of Brogdon makes the Celtics better.
The Celtics will have to deal with a new coach this year as well, but Joe Mazzulla was an assistant under Udoka. Last week, Boston named Mazzulla, 34, interim coach. Mazzulla knows he has some growing to do as a first-time head coach in the NBA.
“You’re never really ready,” Mazzulla said during Media Day on Monday. “I’ve been a head coach before and what I learned from Year 1 to Year 2 from that standpoint was, I wasn’t ready.
“It’s not because I didn’t work at it. It’s not because I didn’t prepare, because there are certain things you have to learn on the job.”
It may take some time to gel under their new coach, but the Celtics went through that last year. They know they can overcome a bumpy start, and they know their two stars can play together. The Celtics have now been there and are eager to get back.
The East won’t be easy. The Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers all have a legitimate shot at wearing the East crown. For now, the Celtics are still the team to beat.