Op-Ed: Are the Celtics mentally ready to get back to the Finals?

Just two wins away from winning it all last year. Is this Celtics team ready to do it all again?


Taylor Snow on Twitter

The Boston Celtics have their eyes set on winning Banner 18 feeling like they have some unfinished business after failing short of their goal last year. Led by the star duo of forward Jayson Tatum and guard Jaylen Brown, the Celtics were one of the favorites to win it all this year. They showed off their dominance in the first 26 games of the season with a record of 21-5.

However, after a loss to the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, the Celtics’ hot start to the season started to cool down. This led to questions if this team was mentally there to win it all.

They suffered terrible losses to the likes of the Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Washington Wizards. Losses to those teams are what gave the Milwaukee Bucks the edge to secure the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, which secured the Bucks home court advantage throughout the playoffs. 

As a consolation, the Celtics still finished second in the Eastern Conference and had the second-best record in the league, but it seems like the Celtics left something on the table. If the Celtics do face the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals for Game 7 in Milwaukee, you will have to think the Celtics will be kicking themselves for not showing up in those games they should have easily won.

Although the Bucks are the best team in the league, the Celtics have the deepest roster in the league full of talented players. The biggest off-season acquisition the Celtics made was acquiring guard Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon has added scoring off the bench and has acted as a true point guard, something the Celtics lacked in the playoffs last year.

In addition to Brogdon, guard Derrick White has had an outstanding end to the season. In White’s last 30 games, he has averaged 15.9 points per game, 4.7 assists per game, and had a career-high in points against the Hornets with 33. White’s defense has improved this year as well averaging 0.9 blocks per game and is second in blocks by a guard.

He has played so well that the Celtics’ head coach Joe Mazzulla has started White in the last 18 games of the season. Mazzulla now has the option to have center Rob Williams come off the bench or have two ready-scoring guards in Brogdon and White come off the bench. Which can become useful when matching up against certain teams.

Along with the scoring off the bench, the Celtics have found themselves a couple of sharpshooters from three to add to their bench scoring. Forward Sam Hauser has been a gem for Mazzulla coming off the bench. Hauser was just seen as a three-point specialist but has improved his defense toward the end of the season. Trade deadline acquisition Mike Muscala has also provided another three-point specialist off the bench and depth at the center position, which the Celtics desperately needed with health concerns over center Al Horford.

All this scoring off the bench needs to be balanced with some defense. This is where forward Grant Williams comes in. Williams does what he’s good at, which is being an annoying pest and getting under your skin making your entire game tough. Expect Williams to guard the star players on the opposition, such as when he guarded Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo in last year’s playoffs.

Mazzulla is now officially becoming the Celtics’ head coach after the Celtics officially let go of former head coach Ime Udoka. With Mazzulla at the helm, the Celtics’ game plan has changed. Under Udoka, defense was the most important part of their game. The Celtics had the second-best defense last year. 

Mazzulla has a different philosophy and his focus is on the offense. Getting the ball moving is important for the Celtics because the ball moving leaves someone open for a shot. Specifically, the three-point shot.

The Boston Three Party has been in full effect because of Mazzulla’s love of the three-point shot. The Celtics attempt and make the second-most threes in the league. As a result, the Celtics have two players in the top five in three-point percentage in Horford and Brogdon. 

A fun stat that shows how big the three-ball is to the Celtics is when they shoot 40% or better from three the Celtics are 30-1. In games when they shoot under 40% from three, the Celtics are 27-24. Live by the three, die by three seems like the motto for this year’s Celtics. 

When the Celtics blew a 28-point lead to the Brooklyn Nets at home, Mazzulla said he wanted the Celtics to take more threes because early in the game the Nets were attempting more threes than them. Criticism has come from reporters and fans with this whole three-point fiasco because when the Celtics are cold from three it allows the other team to run the up score from these stops. 

“I always had a question about, like, when we shoot a lot of 3s and miss, everybody asks me questions,” said Mazulla after the Celtics won a game against the Portland Trail Blazers. “But when we shoot a lot of layups and miss nobody says anything… Just because you’re closer to the basket doesn’t mean it’s easier to score.”

Ultimately, if the Celtics want to win it all this year, it comes down to if Tatum is ready to lead this team to victory. A big reason for the Celtics losing the finals last year was Tatum not being ready for the spotlight. Tatum was shut down by the Warriors only achieving a field goal percentage over 40% twice in the series.

Tatum has said he wants to win, but he needs to show it. In a league where the star player means everything, Tatum has to make that leap to the next level. The talent is there for the Celtics, however, are they mentally there?

They failed to get the one seed, they failed to secure home court throughout the playoffs, and they failed to win against teams they should have beaten but lost due to the opposition’s toughness. They have the youngest coach in the league who has no experience being a head coach in the playoffs. There are a lot of intangibles for the Celtics that show they may not get back to the finals.

On the other hand, the only people that know they can win it all is the team itself. When the ball is moving, the threes are going down, and their defense in rotation, this version of the Celtics is unbeatable. Their depth, talent, and the fact they have two of the best players under 30 in the league in Tatum and Brown is the reason why they can challenge for the title.

The Celtics will face the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. The Hawks are led by their talented guard Trae Young, who scored 25 points against the Miami Heat to secure a date to face the Celtics. 

This should be an easy series for the Celtics, as the Hawks don’t have the amount of star power or bench the Celtics do. Despite this, the Celtics should not take them for granted. The Hawks are a scrappy tough team that could make the Celtics work harder than they want to. Game One is on Apr. 15.

Facebook Comments