Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
So is this Boston? The team that blitzed Charlotte and edged the Sixers with its best big defender (Aron Baynes) out with an injury? Or are the Celtics closer to the group that stumbled at home against a team (Phoenix) with no interest in winning?
It is … unclear.
Here’s what we do know: Last month’s lineup change has been effective. The Celtics decision to shift defensive maven Marcus Smart and utility man Morris into the starting lineup has clicked. Morris—in the running for most valuable Celtic, after Irving—is averaging 16 points and connecting on 40% of his three’s as a starter. Smart’s ability to take on the top defensive challenge has taken pressure off of Irving—which Irving admits has helped. Shifting Gordon Hayward—the NBA’s highest-paid sub—and Jaylen Brown to the bench has given Boston some balance, too.
This is the best summary of this year’s Celtics I’ve seen so far, in that it highlights the team’s progress without ignoring the tinge of unclarity as to what it all means. We know that what we’re seeing lately has generally been good, and we also know that changes in the starting lineup have made an overwhelmingly positive impact on turning the season around. Still, we question what we see because it’s not happening exactly how we imagined. Using Gordon Hayward as a bench player will always feel wrong to me, but I’m not going to argue against if the Celtics keep winning.
People are definitely underselling the Baynes injury, though. The fans of Boston has this weird culture of insisting that injuries don’t matter so long as you have more bodies. Let’s dispel that quickly by answering a simple question: Do injuries make a team better? Baynes has been one of Boston’s best three defenders last year (in the mix with Marcus Smart and Al Horford) and was easily one of their four best last year as well (in the mix with Smart, Horford, and Jaylen Brown). The Celtics’ opponents have taken advantage of Baynes’ absence by attacking the paint without fear of resistance, even more so when Horford was injured as well. While Baynes has been out:
- DeAndre Ayton has given Robert Williams what they call “the business”
- Giannis drove to the basket and finished plays while being tackled by three defenders at once
- Joel Embiid literally set up a campfire in the low post and almost beat the Celtics by himself
Boston could see the latter two again in the playoffs, so it’s clear that Baynes is sorely needed to lock down the paint when things get messy.
From the same article as above:
This Celtics team has enough talent to win the conference. The starting five is starting to jell (“Our chemistry is high,” Morris said) and the young stars are publicly stating they need to find more ways to impact winning, not just contribute points.
Yes, this Celtics team can win the conference, but I think they’re much further away than people are saying. They have exactly three guys they can count on for scoring right now: Kyrie Irving, Marcus Morris (!), and Jayson Tatum. Those guys start games together, as they should, but some of the mid-game lineups feature only one of them, which has consistently been problematic.
Between Hayward, Brown, and Rozier, somebody needs to bring the firepower that they’re known for if the Celtics are going to make the leap from ‘good’ to ‘great’. The team didn’t look to Hayward for nearly anything against Philly, nor did Hayward appear to look to himself to bring a little extra heat when the Sixers erased the deficit they fell into early. Brown has been as aggressive as ever, and yet he continues to bring baffling inconsistency on offense. He may have contracted Tatum’s only-shoot-fade-aways disease that plagued him earlier in the year. Rozier scored 10 loud points on six shots last night but has generally been hesitant to attack the rim since returning to a bench role. I think Hayward will come around eventually, but I’d like to see Brown at the very least learn to impact the game outside of scoring and defense. He was a -14 in 20 minutes against Philly.
I’ll end with something more positive:
The Celtics have weaponized technical fouls. Watch out.