The Boston Celtics have lost their dominant cohesion on the court from last year. Though the team was without All-Star Gordon Hayward, the Celtics had won seven games more at this point last year than they have now, sitting at 45-32. Despite this poor performance, the team showed improvement with a strong win against the Indiana Pacers on Friday, March 29, to put them in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
This season the Celtics were predicted to be a super team, with four all-star caliber players in the starting five and two young rising stars in guards Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Despite these hopes, point guard Kyrie Irving has struggled to connect with teammates, center Al Horford numbers haven’t been up to his career averages and Hayward has taken a massive step back since his injury.
Irving has been consistently unable to make bonds that allow for true teamwork with his Celtics teammates. According to an interview with Irving’s friend and mentor, Kobe Bryant, he is trying to work on these connections, the type of connections made from “time listening. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Talking to guys, listening to what they’re saying.” The fact that Irving is looking to Kobe for advice on connecting is a good sign for the fate of the team. Irving’s desire to mend the chemistry with his teammates gives hope that he’ll re–sign with Boston before becoming a free agent at the end of the season, a crucial contract for the future of the team.
Struggling to consistently make an impact on the court, Horford’s inability to be a strong presence in the post hurts the team, and with $29 million a year going to him, this is a sizable chunk of the team’s cap space. If he plays with the intensity that he had in the Pacers game, this won’t be a problem.
Injury has plagued the team as well, with only Tatum and guard Marcus Smart being on the court the entire season, further limiting the ability of the group to mesh on the hardwood. Although the injuries have been miniscule, they have prevented players from being able to be on the court to further improve the Celtics’ playoff hopes as the postseason approaches.
Hayward’s problematic play may raise eyebrows as we near the end of the season. While on the Utah Jazz he led his team to the playoffs, but since joining a more talented Celtics roster his regression has created problems in the locker room, along with his $32 million annual salary. Though he has difficulty getting the ball in his hands at times, his gameplay elevates without Irving, and their inability to improve each others abilities needs to change if the team hopes to make it to the Finals.
Though struggling in multiple areas individually, improving upon teamwork will elevate Boston back to the powerhouse it was during the last season’s playoffs. Even without both Irving and Hayward, they still were able to take over in the playoffs and forced a seven game series against the, then LeBron James led, Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Championship. In the final stretch of the regular season, it’ll be interesting to see how head coach Brad Stevens pulls his team together.