There have been Celtics teams I liked more than the 2022 edition.
But I don’t know if I’ve ever been more fascinated, captivated, agitated and opinionated about any team I’ve followed. This was not a lovable Celtics team. It was complicated and difficult and beautiful.
And that’s what made them so damn compelling.
They were capable of ANYTHING, from some nights playing like the 30th-best team in the league to other nights playing exquisite, ball-popping offense and impassioned suffocating defense.
They gave us 24 playoff games, fer crissake! A team that I hate-watched in January simply to see how they’d find a way to implode carried us all the way into mid-June.
And yet, even in the Finals with the season on the line, they were still capable in game No. 106 of having their starters run a set like this:
I mean, how was that or a dozen other plays Thursday night that made me cringe even possible? Because, for this year’s Celtics model, ANYTHING WAS POSSIBLLLLEEEEEE!!!
It’s important to note, you are an absolute idiot if you believe the season was an overall disappointment. The way it ENDED was a disappointment, sure. The fact that the same things they sucked at in January actually killed them in June -- half-court offense, poise and situational basketball -- is a little disturbing.
But the 2022 Celtics weren’t built with a trip to the NBA Finals in mind. They were basketball jambalaya, a collection of players with limitations from Jayson Tatum’s youth, Jaylen Brown’s clumsiness, Al Horford’s age, Marcus Smart’s rage and Rob Williams' fragility.
On one hand, we’re lamenting today that they lost because they got outsmarted and outwilled by the Warriors. But think for a second how mentally tough and resilient they were to tamp down all that stuff that’s STILL in their DNA? They accomplished what they did even though some of the stuff that made them lose was a feature, not a bug.
When the Celtics started to improve after scraping rock-bottom in early January, there was a groundswell of "I told you so’ers." Folks who believed those who criticized the team had been non-believers.
Interestingly, the players and coaches all acknowledged they needed to do a 180 with their playing style and attitude to even become competent, never mind excellent. The "non-believers" diagnosed perfectly the ills of stagnant offense, distracted defense, "my turn" shot selection and on-court immaturity. And those of us who believed the capacity to have those flaws pop up again were "still in there" were proven right the past three games.
And it’s really no surprise. The consensus opinion seems to be that Tatum, Brown and Smart are their three best players. And those are the three guys most capable of taking over a game or handing over a game.
Want to argue that Jaylen Brown is one of the league’s most effective No. 2 scorers and a heart-and-soul part of the team the Celtics can’t do without? His 34 points Thursday night and the fact he had four different games where he put the Celtics on his back in these playoffs would be a good place to start. Late in the game, who was hitting 3s like this? Not Tatum. Brown was.
Want to argue that Brown is a giveth-taketh away player on both ends of the court who -- despite all the spectacular finishes -- wades into more traps than Wile E. Coyote and runs like a deer on skates? Steph Curry and Klay Thompson exploiting him on defense and plays like this, this, and this on offense capably make the case. Sometimes when he’s way out over his skis it looks like his head must weigh 300 pounds. I don’t get it.
Yet then he has drives where he jumps eight feet to his left, hangs and finishes with a tissue-soft finger-roll off the window.
Again, all in the same game. Everybody’s right.
Want to argue Marcus Smart is perfectly deployed? We could sit here all night digging up "winning plays."
Want to argue that he’s just not wired the right way to be the steady hand on the rudder? Point to his Game 5 flop giving Thompson an open 3, the T he took moments later, the offensive foul he drew moments after the T, getting baited Thursday night into an argument with second-year player Jordan Poole and his annoying and theatrical face-guarding of Curry in the closing minutes last night that wound up with Smart taking a nut-shot that -- thanks to his penchant for flopping -- wasn’t taken seriously. And Curry hit an open 3.
Want to argue Smart’s a true point guard? I’m sure you can find any number of deft passes. And I can show you where the only obvious play was to GIVE IT TO THE OPEN 7-FOOTER UNDER THE RIM!
Which brings us to Tatum who -- as the team’s best player -- is taking the majority of slings and arrows. He’s a sympathetic figure to me. He’s missing two things. A midrange pull-up game so it’s not feast or famine, 3 or finish at the rim.
And a third-grade teacher who can sit him down and tell him his behavior and reactions are unacceptable and affect the entire classroom/team. There’s no getting around it. He’s immature. And as I said before the Heat series, the only things Jimmy Butler has that Tatum doesn’t are poise and a midrange game. If and when he gets those, he will be an MVP-caliber player.
I mean, that’s what I think. You think I’m wrong? I won’t even ask what your proof is because I know you have it.
We are dug in. "Take" committed. Just waiting for the next game to compile more evidence to bolster our cases.
But of course there are no more games now. The season’s shut down. All of our personal Opinion Factories are left to rehash, project and predict.
The 2021-22 Celtics drove me absolutely nuts. And I am going to miss them terribly.