The Boston Celtics’ first three-game losing streak of the 2019-20 season had some fans smashing their panic buttons and pondering roster shakeups. The conversation around the team veered sharply from gushing about the glut of All-Star-caliber talent on the wings to wondering if it’s suddenly holding Boston back.
Deep breath, everybody. While we agree that this week spotlighted some of the concerns about this Celtics team, it’s been comical how quickly the tenor of the season has shifted because of one bad week. The Celtics Mailbag is overflowing with angsty letters (and a few rational ones, too) so let’s try to assess what’s worth fretting over and what’s not.
When do we press the panic button?! — @M1ck1
Based on the responses we got to our call for question (just scroll through this), it appears some are tap dancing on the button already. You’ll see some toasty takes in the bag this week. We think it’s OK to have some concerns about this team but let’s see if this funk persists before we start talking about trading away core pieces.
What’s changed? A couple of weeks ago we looked like a championship team, but now…. — @RodatRodders
Boston certainly isn’t playing with the same sort of defensive intensity that it had early in the year when players were flying around and covering for each other. Offensively, Boston’s wings all slumping at the same time hasn’t been ideal. But, ultimately, a little more effort and attention to detail would go a long way.
A stretch of decent health would aid continuity and rotation development, too.
Is Gordon Hayward being on the team blocking the development of the Jays (Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown)? It's hard not to notice that their performance has dropped since Hayward came back from injury. — @ceesfan18
The three-man combo of Tatum, Brown, and Hayward have played 273 minutes together this season and Boston owns a solid net rating of plus-5 in that span. Take Hayward off the court and the Tatum/Brown combo’s net rating bumps up slightly to plus-6 in 474 minutes (but there’s also a sharp downturn in offensive production).
On the surface, it suggests that Hayward isn’t having a pronounced impact on team performance when the Jays are on the court together.
Tatum’s ratings are better in the 445 minutes he’s played with Hayward (plus-10.3 net rating) versus when Hayward is off the floor (plus-8.7 in 786 minutes).
What’s a bit more noticeable is how Brown’s net rating jumps from plus-0.2 in 370 minutes with Hayward to plus-6.4 in the 702 minutes without him. The flip side to that is Brown’s offensive shooting efficiency is much better with Hayward, the team simply has played better as a whole in those minutes without him.
All of which is to say that Tatum and Brown’s little funk might simply be coinciding with Hayward’s, and not a product of his return from the foot injury. All three players should ultimately be better with the others on the court because of the matchup issues they can cause opposing teams on the perimeter.
Are the Celtics a contender? — @joshkin08
Define contender. Can they emerge from the East? Sure, they’ve shown the ability to hang with the best in the conference and, while we might not peg them as favorites in certain matchups, it’s clear this team can compete with anyone.
That said, for as good as Boston's record and overall numbers have been, it’s fair to be leery of their ceiling. Boston feasted on inferior competition early in the year and is a meager 7-7 against teams over .500. The Celtics have won only two road games against teams with winning records — and both of those teams were missing key players (Toronto without Pascal Siakam and Dallas without Luka Doncic).
There’s still a lot of strides to be made before we’re ready to lump Boston in with other title contenders but the league is so wide open that Boston’s flaws don’t seem impossible to overcome.
Brad Stevens is (still) getting a free pass here. What would it take to have some of the accountability spotlight start to shine on him and his weak coaching style of basketball? I’ve been to games, I’ve watched all Celtics games, and he has been very weak. — @narimon00
We told you the takes in here were spicy this week. As we talked about on the Celtics Talk podcast this week (shameless plug but definitely go subscribe and leave a 5-star review RIGHT NOW), Stevens is certainly searching for the right reserve combinations but to pin the majority of the blame for this team’s funk on the coach seems a bit much.
Stevens has coached most of the season without a full roster and is trying to figure out what lineups and rotations put this team in position to maintain its bursts of strong play. It’s ultimately on the players to maintain their effort and intensity, something that has waned at times this week.
Why does Brad Stevens get a pass? What has he really done? — @McSports14
Has everyone on the internet completely forgotten 2014-2018? Did last year scar everyone this badly?
Not worried about the funk as much as the Sixers. Who would C's need to add to have a chance in a series? — @RyLo2382
I’m not sure there’s a Philadelphia-specific addition that Boston could make to tilt that series in their favor. Certainly, the major issue in the matchup is size and trying to limit Embiid. But, in general, we’d say that simply adding some bench shooting could be more important for Boston because they’re unlikely to upgrade the big-man spot enough to make a tangible difference beyond what they’ve currently got.
Less a question than an observation, and probably not a unique one: Celtics will only go as far as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum take them. When those guys play engaged on both ends, C's are tough to stop. When they look lost or out of sorts, they’re middling at best. — @PatRileyMA
I'll use this very reasonable take as a launching pad to note this: Part of being an All-Star is bringing it every single night. For as good as Tatum and Brown have been, they are prone to the occasional clunker. No one is immune to it -- and Kemba Walker has had some duds as well — but that consistency is what will take Tatum and Brown from All-Star hopefuls to surefire invitees.
Other than Brown, Tatum, and Marcus Smart, the Celts haven’t had much luck in the draft. When can we count on guys to consistently produce from the last two drafts? — @nebs33
It’s too soon to suggest Boston whiffed in the draft the past two years. Injuries have obviously conspired against first-rounders Romeo Langford and Robert Williams. Obviously it’s a tough look to see Philadelphia be able to lean heavy on someone like Matisse Thybulle and, yet, they don’t have a lot of options.
Grant Williams has a bright future. Tremont Waters might be a backup point guard of the future for this team. High lottery picks get more opportunity and the Celtics have done a solid job developing all of those players. Roster depth conspired against some later picks in recent seasons but the Celtics need the recent draftees to develop, especially as the roster cost bloats when extensions for Brown and (eventually) Tatum kick in.
Why is everyone getting sick??? Someone needs to sanitize the entire practice facility. — @MikeRobidoux
We talked to Enes Kanter about this on the podcast this week (another shameless plug but, seriously, go subscribe immediately) and he confirmed that everybody gets flu shots and has access to plenty of hand sanitizer. Anyone with a kid in elementary school knows how this works: One kid gets sick, everybody’s getting it (and then they bring it home and spread it around there, too).
Tacko Fall got some minutes in the first half versus the Spurs. He definitely was a deterrent and continues to make his case as an NBA player. What is your assessment of his chances to contribute more? — @Smileyjogger
Stevens had hinted that he might throw Fall into a game during the doldrums of January if he thought the team needed a spark. If nothing else, it generates a buzz inside TD Garden. But the Celtics are also encouraged by Fall’s development early in his pro career and, with 45 days to maximize his services, Boston feels confident enough to throw him in there for a handful of minutes.
I don’t think it’ll happen often outside of late-game situations but those 10 minutes against the Spurs will be mighty valuable, both for Fall’s development, and the team’s ability to assess his progress.
Why do so many people think Drummond can fix all our problems? — @ap_joseph96
Is trading for Steven Adams something the Celtics should seriously think about? — @emerson_isacc
[Danny Devito No (dot) GIF]
Seems like the Celtics lack a reliable bench scorer — maybe excluding Kanter — and it hurts them in these stretches where their starters just aren’t hitting shots. Would a trade help, or just hope Carsen Edwards and Grant Williams starting making shots? — @celtswatchclub
While everyone fixates on Boston’s need for size, we’d make the case that bench shooting is the bigger issue and, more importantly, more readily available. If Danny Ainge is to make a move, we could see it being for a low-cost, 3-point shooting bench weapon rather than sacrificing one of the team’s top 5 for a marginal upgrade.
On a scale of 1-10, were Perkins shots at Fragile Durant on Twitter a 10 or an 11? — @ChefdDds89
Truth be told, I’m not sure that this Twitter beef had a winner (besides all of us watching it unfold). Durant should take a page out of a journalist's playbook and never read the comments.
Long season. Ups and downs. The Celtics will be ok. — @DCarnevaleMYOS
Hey, who let a rational question slip through?! Delete this!
Question: Why exactly are we panicking when we came into the season expecting the worst yet currently sit in third place AFTER a three-game losing streak? #OnlyBoston — @rclemensDFS
Another one! (It certainly doesn’t take long for expectations to shift in these parts)
Will I ever be happy again? — @washburn647
There’s the familiar angst! Hang in there, friend. Remember how much fun the first two-plus months of the season were? The Celtics weren’t going to go the whole year without hitting some adversity. How they respond to this stretch will tell us an awful lot about what they're capable of this season.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Pelicans-Celtics, which tips off Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.