Good riddance to the Boston Celtics' 2018-19 regular season.
You will not be remembered fondly. Brad Stevens ought to take a page out of Bill Belichick’s playbook and, when the team huddles Wednesday, bury a basketball or some game film somewhere beneath the Auerbach Center.
A season that started with such unbridled optimism turned bleak in a hurry. We hyped up the team’s talent-filled (and finally healthy!) starting lineup, gave it a snazzy Warriors-like nickname, and it fizzled before Thanksgiving. We gushed about Boston’s depth and yet no one could figure out their roles. Instead of playing like the beasts of a LeBron-less East that they were widely pegged, the Celtics routinely crumbled under the heavy burden of expectations.
There were more closed-door meetings than signature wins. By January, cameras caught Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown shoving each other in frustration in front of the Boston bench. Kyrie Irving got so fed up with Boston’s younger players that he called LeBron James. Before the All-Star break, Marcus Morris said the season hadn’t been fun for a long time.
In hindsight, he was pretty spot on.
Before real games started, it was all sunshine and puppy dogs. Kyrie Irving declared his desire to re-sign in Boston and basked in the afterglow for a few months. But, fueled in part by Boston’s struggles, speculation about his future returned to headlines over All-Star weekend. Film of him talking to good friend (and fellow free-agent-to-be) Kevin Durant was dissected with Zapruder-like intensity. Irving grumped in the aftermath and Terry Rozier noted it weighed on a team that often fed off Irving’s energy.
These Celtics had an uncanny ability to fumble away double-digit leads. They often crumbled at the first sign of adversity. Stevens gave his team every opportunity to play through their issues and, ultimately, he waited so long that even Stevens ended up in the crosshairs of angry Celtics fans, something that seemed unfathomable during his tenure.
Every time it seemed like the Celtics couldn’t produce a worse loss, they somehow found a new way to one-up themselves. A loss to the lowly Knicks was dubbed rock bottom in November. That was wildly premature. The Celtics broke out their shovels and dug deeper on multiple occasions. Now, we're not even certain that Knicks loss would crack the Top 5 worst of the season.
OK, you get the point. The regular season was brutal. But here’s the good news: It’s over! Bring on the playoffs, baby.
We’d like to welcome back all the readers that got so fed up by mid-March (if you hung around that long) that you basically just checked out on the regular season. You missed some great stories (just kidding, they were as inconsistent as Boston’s play).
But we’re harping on the negative here. A funny thing happened the past few weeks: The Celtics quietly started playing better. Aron Baynes elevated to the starting lineup and jump-started a defense that had been sliding backward for two months. Gordon Hayward, his post-All-Star momentum twice stunted by injury, found both his confidence and his aggression, and has played like someone who could be an X-factor in the postseason. The Celtics have seen long glimpses of Playoff Kyrie and Playoff Al Horford, and — so long as Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum can get healthy — this team has all the necessary parts to make a legitimate postseason run.
Yes, for all the consternation about how downright infuriating Boston’s regular season was and as much as we rode the highs and lows of the roller coaster, it will be merely a footnote to the season if the Celtics surge in the playoffs.
Truth be told, this season was never going to be judged based on what happened in the regular season. The Celtics didn’t always inspire confidence and they made their path to postseason success a bit more daunting, but they still have the talent to compete for the berth in the Finals that slipped away a year ago.
Farewell, regular season. It was an 82-game slog that didn’t come close to matching expectations. Fortunately for the Celtics, there’s still time to right some wrongs.
Bring on the playoffs.
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