We warned you there’d be some bumps in the road for these Boston Celtics during the early stages of the 2020-21 season. The preseason helped temper expectations, but then Jayson Tatum banked in a 3-pointer on opening night and some rushed to reserve the duck boats.
Here’s the reality: The Celtics are probably going to be a bit of a roller coaster the first couple months of the season. Brad Stevens would remind you to not get too high or too low based on an individual result.
All that said, with two glimpses of the Brooklyn Nets in the past eight days, it feels safe to suggest that they are the class of the East. After his team endured a 123-95 holiday loss, Stevens dubbed Brooklyn the, "deepest team in the NBA and … certainly in the conversation for the best.”
If you opened your Twitter feed after either of these Brooklyn beatings, you probably found a pretty pessimistic Celtics fan base. Maybe it’s a vocal minority but our social media mentions were filled with everything from pleas for a James Harden deal to calls for Stevens’ job after Friday’s game.
We’re not here to sugarcoat it. The Celtics have a whole bunch of question marks surrounding this team entering the new season and many of them won’t be answered until Kemba Walker is back on the floor. The East is clearly better — the Nets with a healthy Kevin Durant and a happy Kyrie Irving providing an imposing new road block in Boston’s quest to get to the championship stage — and it’s going to take a lot of work to Boston to put itself back in the championship conversation.
It’s not a great sign that, two games in, Jayson Tatum has still not taken a free throw. We can’t even imagine the tenor of the fan base if he hadn’t banked in that 3-pointer on Wednesday night. An offense that was so crisp against Milwaukee endured some painful stretches against the Nets. Boston had no answer when both Kyrie and KD got cooking in the second half. A bench that had been solid in the opener was more suspect against Brooklyn’s depth.
But we thought Jaylen Brown offered good perspective after Friday’s game while emphasize the whole notion of buckling up for the long haul.
"It’s a journey,” said Brown. "I know sometimes the media and the fans lose sight of that. But it definitely is a journey. It’s ups and downs. Things that look great two games in, or in the preseason, may not look great towards the end of the season. I know everybody is excited that basketball is back, and Celtics fans are looking forward to this journey. But it’s an uphill battle.
"Every single day getting better, and that’s what leads to the best result. We don’t get too happy with winning games or losing games right now. We just have to keep up those great habits and we’ll be in the position we want to be in as a team. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, looking forward to getting better. I’m excited.”
We get it. When your team has knocked on the door of the title stage in three of the past four years, expectations are naturally sky high. The Celtics did not have an ideal offseason, the departure of Gordon Hayward and the lingering soreness in Walker’s knee has prevented the team from simply building off their bubble run.
These two games against the Nets should remind them how far they are from where they need to be. Tatum and Brown must continue to learn and grow while serving as the focal points of the team. Chemistry must be forged with new additions like Tristan Thompson. The War on Theis rages on and now they’re whistling him for his signature seals.
But we’re willing to bet the Celtics look a lot different in June than they do now — both with the potential for in-season roster change and just forging an identity over the course of the season.
We’d also suspect that Harden is NOT the answer to this team's issues. There is no denying the talent and we’ve long contended that you have to at least ponder the possibility whenever one of the league’s elite players becomes available. The Celtics did and they’ve decided to stick with what they’ve got — no matter if Harden adds him to his list of publicly acceptable destinations or not. The past few weeks seem to emphasize why it might be better to just ride it out with the young core that has positioned you for at least a half decade of being in the contender mix.
Sure, there’s going to be nights like this where you question that suggestion. Again, there’s a lot of things that have to happen over the next six months for Boston to even surge back to the East finals. There are no guarantees with any path.
But we’d suggest taking a deep breath after two games. The Celtics play six of their next seven on the road. There’s going to be some more rough patches. And heaven help Danny Ainge's Twitter feed if Myles Turner has a monster game in either of the next couple tilts.
"First two games of the season, I think we played two of the best teams in the league and I think it was a good test to kind of see where we're at,” said Tatum. "And I like where we're at. But obviously, we've got a long way to go. It’s only the second game of the season but I think these first two games was great for us. Like I said, we played two of the best teams in the league and just gonna build off it.”