Welcome to morning target practice, where every day of the week you will receive an up-to-date and current column from one of the SI.comNBA writers: Howard Beck on Mondays, Chris Mannix on Tuesdays, Michael Pina on Wednesdays, Chris Herring on Thursdays and Rohan Nadkarni on Fridays.
BOSTON – The fund officially crashed on February 24.thin Atlanta, when a winless trip for the Celtics concluded with a lifeless performance against the Hawks. Offense was erratic (26% of three), defense worse. Atlanta, then struggling to find an identity, landed 53% of its shots and a scorching 55% of all three. Said a dejected Brad Stevens afterward: “The next four games will tell us a lot about where we can go.”
Boston responded to Stevens’ challenge, winning all four. The stage restored some of the confidence in the dressing room, which had been infected with doubts. It eased the pressure on Stevens, whose job security had come under public scrutiny for the first time. He dimmed attention to team president Danny Ainge, whose weekly radio appearances with The sports center I had Ainge plays the role of human heavy sack, absorbing criticism for the team’s mediocre play.
With the season scheduled to resume this week, the Celtics, 19-17 and in the thick of the conference playoff race, have reason to be optimistic. They have two All-Stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Jeff Teague’s game has recovered. Kemba Walker, a 2020 All-Star who has been inconsistent since his return from a knee injury, showed signs of life before the break. It was Walker who galvanized the locker room after the loss to Atlanta. Your message: Nobody takes a break until we take a break.
There is also reason to believe that the decline could get worse. Depth is a major issue. Tristan Thompson, an offseason signing, has been uneven. The defense, regularly ranked in the top ten in Stevens’ era, has eroded to the bottom half of the league. As close as Boston is to the top seed (five games), they are even closer to the ninth (two). What has been one of the most consistent teams in the NBA in recent years has become one of the most unpredictable.
“Winning is what we are expected to do in Boston,” Ainge said in a recent radio interview. “We are expected to win, to do championships, to win playoff games, and that’s what we hope to do, still, this year.”
Hours before the start of his second All-Star game, Tatum fired jump shots on a State Farm Arena practice floor, wearing an oversized pair of headphones. In his ears, the TNT team, who was conducting a live interview. Shaquille O’Neal asked Tatum if he planned to compete in the All-Star MVP. Dwyane Wade questioned Tatum about playing against Brown. Kenny Smith turned the conversation to the Celtics’ season, noting the “level of expectation” in Boston and asking what the team had to do to make up ground.
Expectations have been Boston’s enemy this season. The Celtics have been one of the most consistent teams in the Eastern Conference the past four seasons, advancing to the conference finals in three of them, including the NBA bubble last fall. However, over the past three years Boston has experienced a significant brain drain. Al Horford left as a free agent in 2019. Kyrie Irving defected that same summer. Last November, Gordon Hayward opted out of the final year of his contract and signed a four-year, $ 120 million deal with Charlotte.
Boston’s winnings didn’t match his losses. Walker replaced Irving, and he’s been a better fit. But Horford, whose versatility was critical to the Celtics on both ends, left for nothing. And while Hayward’s three-year streak in Boston was bitten by injury, he averaged 17.5 points his final season. “A lot of Boston’s problems are pretty easy to explain,” said a rival executive. Illustrated Sports. “They lost some good players. And they replaced them with guys who are not so good. “
Those players probably hold the key to the Celtics’ success this season. Boston knows what it will get from Tatum, an emerging superstar who is averaging 25 points per game, the best of his career, this season. He now has a proven second star in Brown, whose outstanding game in the first half of the season, including a five-game stretch Tatum missed due to COVID-19, kept the Celtics afloat. Walker’s numbers are down across the board, but he showed glimpses of the All-Star version of himself in the past four games, particularly beyond the three-point line.
The Celtics will soon regain a reliable piece in Marcus Smart, who has been out since early February with a calf injury. Boston is 9-9 since Smart came out, with opposing guards celebrating without the Defensive Team fixture on the court. But Smart is more than just a defensive plug. It is the heart of the team. His energy is contagious, an energy Boston has sorely missed over the past month. A rival coach said: “For every bad shot Smart makes, he makes two or three good plays. They miss that. “
The unknowns with Boston come from the back half of the rotation. Payton Pritchard has been a bright spot. The rookie, selected 26th last fall, he averaged 7.7 points while connecting 40% of his three. From there, however, there has been uncertainty. Robert Williams emerged before the break, showing glimpses of the shot block, the running hoop, the hyper-athletic big man the Celtics have been building for the past three seasons. Grant Williams has been a mixed bag. Boston still believes in second-year point guard Romeo Langford, who was chosen from the 2019 lottery, but Langford has played just 32 games, and none this season while recovering from wrist surgery.
The Celtics have a potential ace up their sleeve in a $ 28.5 million trade exception acquired on Hayward’s sign-and-trade deal. However, internally there are mixed feelings about its use before March 25.th change deadline. Celtics are excited about Harrison Barnes, sources said Illustrated Sports, the Kings forward who could be moved by Sacramento. There is interest in Jerami Grant as well, although the Pistons have shown no urgency to ditch the 26-year-old Grant, who is having a season in his career. The Celtics could also hang onto the exception and use it in a deal this offseason, before it expires.
The last option would do nothing to help the team. is season, forcing a flawed squad to fend for themselves in a high-level conference. Brooklyn added Blake Griffin to its star constellation this week, Milwaukee recently welcomed Jrue Holiday after a prolonged absence, while Giannis Antetokounmpo reentered the MVP conversation, and the Sixers continue to show the kind of attack. balanced that should give a team with two All-NBA superstars remaining in power.
These are the teams that Boston will face in the coming months. And right now, the Celtics just aren’t up to the task.
The NBA against the COVID-19 vaccine
It’s likely a couple more months to pass before NBA players are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. And while Adam Silver, Doc Rivers, and others have expressed confidence in the vaccine’s efficacy, key players have not made a commitment. LeBron James declined to answer whether he would get the vaccine, calling it a family affair. Other players have expressed a desire to see more data before making a decision. Meanwhile, last month, ESPN reported that players were uneasy about participating in any public service announcements of the COVID-19 vaccine, as have retired players like Bill Russell.
The NBA is not going to require players to get vaccinated. “I think ultimately these are personal decisions that players must make, as does everyone in our communities,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We see our role, together with the Players Association, to provide them with the best possible information and also to encourage them to seek information on their own. They have personal doctors, others they can trust. “The league is also not missing out on opportunities to incentivize their participation, either. Silver noted that new CDC guidelines say vaccinated people don’t need to be quarantined due to close contact. with a COVID-positive person In Atlanta, Sixers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were forced to miss the All-Star Game due to close contact with a barber who tested positive in Philadelphia.
Silver has expressed optimism that most players will get vaccinated. Although that may be an illusion. The NBA was forced to postpone 31 games in the first half due to health and safety protocols, a number the league wants:needs—Which will be reduced during the last months to successfully complete the season. Vaccinating players, eliminating the need to keep players out due to close contact would be an important first step.
“My hunch is that most players will eventually choose to get vaccinated,” Silver said. “They have personal decisions to make at the end of the day, and I take it very seriously and I take my concerns very seriously. But my sense is the most [players] they will ultimately decide that they should be vaccinated. “
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.