Back in October, if you had told sports fans to bet on which of Boston’s professional winter sports teams would be in the playoffs come April, I’m pretty sure every single one of them would have picked the Bruins.
Incredibly, that is not the case. The Bruins are out, the Celtics are in and we’re days away from the start of playoff basketball.
The last time the Celtics made the postseason was two short years ago, but the layoff has felt much longer. Maybe it’s because this year’s club looks completely different from the one that was eliminated in the first round by the New York Knicks. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo were Boston’s best players, and Doc Rivers was still at the helm. All of them are gone now, as are most of their teammates. Of the 20 players who suited up for the Celtics that year, only three — Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger — remain.
Danny Ainge has treated his roster like a yard sale, unloading nearly everyone of value in the name of rebuilding. Players came and went at such a dizzying pace that even the most devoted fans have found it difficult to keep track of Boston’s ever-changing roster.
With so many moving parts, it became impossible for Boston to form any sort of chemistry. It takes a while for players to get comfortable in a new city and adapt to new coaches, teammates, fans, media and so on. It’s also hard to concentrate when the threat of being traded looms over your head like a dark storm cloud.
It’s no wonder the Celtics were such a mess for all of last year and most of this year. A total of 22 players have logged minutes for Boston this year, which is a lot considering that teams are only allowed to carry a maximum of 13 players on their active rosters. Being a young player in the NBA is hard enough, and even harder still when there’s so much uncertainty about what your role is and who your teammates are.
Since trading for Isaiah Thomas on Feb. 19, however, the Celtics have stabilized, allowing coach Brad Stevens to sort out his rotation and give players consistent minutes. There has been noticeable improvement from young players such as Evan Turner, Marcus Smart and Tyler Zeller, who have grown into their roles as the season has progressed. Boston finally gelled as a result, helping the young team become greater than the sum of its parts.
It is also impossible to overstate the impact that Thomas has had on his new teammates. He’s been a much-needed source of offense for a team that struggled mightily after Rondo and Jeff Green — its point guard and leading scorer, respectively — were traded away. Thomas has averaged just a shade under 20 points per game despite playing every game off the bench. He’s given Boston a shot in the arm, and it’s no coincidence that the Celtics have done so well since his arrival.
Perhaps even more surprising than the Celtics’ quick turnaround is that for the first time in eight years, the Boston Bruins are not playoff-bound. The Bruins came oh-so-close, only to be eliminated on the season’s final day. They fell two points — the equivalent of one win or two overtime losses — shy of making the postseason, completing their choke by losing the last three games of the regular season.
Thankfully, there will still be playoff games to watch at the TD Garden this spring, but they will be played on a parquet floor instead of ice.