An unfortunate storyline has surrounded this season’s Celtics, defined by uncertain leadership and frustratingly inconsistent play. It was a year of stark highs and lows: a heroic 33-point drubbing of the defending-champion Warriors was followed six days later by an embarrassing 25-point rout at the hands of the Clippers. However, Celtics fans continued to cling to the hope that the team could fulfill its promise come postseason time.
That decisive win over Golden State offered a glimpse into this team’s lofty potential: a whirring machine of dynamic, interchangeable parts. Each stifling defensive stop seemed to produce another make in the barrage of 3-pointers. This collection of playmakers and sharpshooters could hang with, and evidently dominate, any opponent.
While the Celtics offense did not reach these heights during the team’s sweep of the Pacers, that long-awaited team is rounding into form. It starts with Kyrie Irving’s wizardry at the point guard position. Kyrie has stood as Boston’s lone established star this entire season, but he has struggled to fill the leadership role tied to that status. He called out his teammates after a January loss to the Magic, declaring that the young players “[don’t] know what it’s like to be a championship level team.” Media-driven drama can only rub others the wrong way and disrupt chemistry.
Recently, Kyrie has left those antics behind and provided the on-court leadership his team needs. He’s racking up 25.3 points per contest, while stroking the 3-ball at a scorching rate of 50%. Perhaps most importantly, his teammates have been the beneficiaries of 8.0 assists per game. Kyrie never fully displayed his ball-distributing abilities during his partnership with LeBron James and has finally embraced the true point guard role this year.
Meanwhile, second-year forward Jayson Tatum is already establishing himself as a playoff virtuoso. His fluid offensive game has proven perfectly tailored to the grind-it-out style of postseason basketball. Tatum, a preternatural scorer with a feathery touch from the perimeter, the post or the paint, can get a bucket in any circumstance. He has firmly carved out the secondary position on the team’s offensive totem pole, piling up an efficient 19.7 points per game.
Then, we have the wild card. Gordon Hayward was signed to lead this team alongside Kyrie — unfortunately, his infamous leg injury and arduous recovery have inhibited him from returning to All-Star status. However, the pieces are all still there, and Hayward is starting to put them together. He fits perfectly into the Celtics’ versatile, interpositional style of play. Hayward threatens the defense, whether throwing or receiving bullet passes; he can attack the rim or fire from deep. He showcased these gifts in Boston’s closeout of Indiana, icing the game on a cold-blooded triple. Hayward must consistently perform with this level of aggression and swagger if Boston wants to make a deep playoff run.
The next round will provide a decisive test of the Celtics’ championship mettle, as they likely face the first-seed Bucks. They must retain this balanced, confident approach in the face of Milwaukee’s multifaceted attack and correctly utilize the abundance of talent that has clashed so often this season.