It’s never truly a NBA postseason unless the Boston Celtics fail to live up to expectations. Every year the Celtics roll over teams in the regular season just to disappoint with an unexpected playoff exit. This year’s narrative was slightly different due to COVID-19, as the NBA shifted to a bubble after a two month postponement. However, the Celtics continued to raise expectations as their early play in the bubble was efficient. They convincingly swept the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round and were building hope among the Celtics fanbase. As they faced the defending champion Toronto Raptors, the Celtics were clamping Toronto’s offense and most likely would’ve won in five games if OG Anunoby hadn’t played hero in Game 3. They squeaked out a series victory and then ran into the Miami Heat, the Cinderella team of the bubble. They lost control and momentum early in the series and the young core of Miami never let off the gas pedal. Once again, the Celtics exit the postseason with more questions than answers.
The main problem with this exit is that the road to the NBA Finals was ideal for the Boston Celtics; the title favorite Milwaukee Bucks were knocked out by the Miami Heat in the second round and the Heat were due for a shooting percentage regression. Additionally, the Celtics matched up perfectly with the Heat, whose young core had little-to-no playoff experience. Yet, even with Brad Stevens’ efficient defensive game plan, Tyler Herro continued to drain contested 3-pointers and essentially carry the Heat to the NBA Finals. The Celtics simply couldn’t close out games during this series; in each of their four losses, the Celtics held a fourth quarter lead. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown disappeared down the stretch and the Celtics relied on a volatile Marcus Smart to sink clutch shots. Their clock management was atrocious and the shot selection by Tatum and Walker was perplexing. It seemed like on every fourth quarter possession the Celtics felt rushed and chose shots that were completely contested. Their rebounding was horrific down the stretch as well; you simply cannot rely on Daniel Theis to efficiently rebound and box out big men.
So what’s next for the Boston Celtics? Their championship window is closing as Jayson Tatum and their young core are due for contracts in the next few years. The easiest way for them to free up cap space is to find a trade partner for Gordon Hayward. Although most of his regression is due to his gruesome ankle injury in 2017, Hayward was a liability on the court for most of the season. Find a trade suitor where Hayward will fit, and in return receive draft picks and a big man, which the Celtics definitely need. I have faith in Robert Williams III and Enes Kanter as solid rotational pieces, but I do not trust them as starters. Defense wins NBA championships, and if the Celtics want to add another title to their impressive repertoire they need to close out in games and desperately need a competent big man to solidify their starting five. Am I expecting a Celtics championship next season? Absolutely not. But if the Celtics continue to improve and are aggressive in free agency, I wouldn’t count them out for a Cinderella run in 2021.