The Boston Celtics have lost four of their last five and are now three games back of the Toronto Raptors for the two seed in the east. Is it time to panic?
On Sunday, the Boston Celtics fell victim to the Oklahoma City Thunder in heartbreaking fashion. This has seemingly become the norm for this team as of late, as they keep inventing new ways to lose games they should win. Last week, they blew a 17-point fourth quarter lead, eventually losing in overtime to Caris LeVert and the Brooklyn Nets. This time around, Kemba Walker got the ball stolen after an inbounds pass, leading to a Dennis Schroder go-ahead layup with eight seconds left in the game.
The one-point loss to the Thunder marks the fourth loss in five games for the Celtics. What’s even more concerning is that all four losses have come on their home floor in Boston. The most concerning aspect of all is that the Celtics had opportunities to win all four of these games, but simply did not execute down the stretch in any of them.
It’s easy to point to injuries as a key factor in the Boston Celtics recent skid. Kemba Walker did not play in the loss to the Houston Rockets. Jayson Tatum was out In the disaster against the Nets, which also saw Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown exit early due to injuries. Hayward and Brown were then held out in the loss against the Utah Jazz, and while Hayward returned Sunday, Brown was still out rehabbing his hamstring.
But while injuries can be used as an explanation about why this skid has occurred in the short-term, they have shown just how vulnerable this Celtics team can be if they struggle to stay healthy going forward. Missing just one of their key pieces completely changes the nature of this team. This recent stretch has shown us that the bench can not be relied upon to create any offense. That will only be highlighted if guys like Brad Wanamaker are forced into big minute situations in the playoffs.
Thankfully, none of these injuries seem to be long-term concerns. Brown is being considered day-to-day at this point and should be more than 100 percent come playoff time. Hayward’s knee does not seem to be a concern and he looked very good in his return against the Thunder.
Kemba Walker’s knee is the one question mark that still seems to be looming. Walker’s minutes have increased in each of his past three games and he looks healthy on the floor. There’s no immediate concern with his knee, but it seems like it’s something he may have to manage for the rest of the season. Both he and the Boston Celtics are going to have to be smart about it to make sure he’s a full-go come playoff time.
The Boston Celtics had an opportunity to cut the Toronto Raptors‘ lead to just one game with a win over the Brooklyn Nets last week. Three losses later, it’s becoming harder to picture the Celtics catching the Raptors and securing the number two seed in the East. With only 19 games left in the regular season, Boston is now three games back of the Raptors, making their margin for error incredibly thin.
On an encouraging note, the Celtics schedule eases up a bit after upcoming battles against the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics also have one more meeting against the Raptors later this month. The Raptors will play host to the Celtics on March 20th, which is a must-win game for Boston if they want to move up in the standings. This recent skid has certainly made things much harder, but the Celtics still have opportunities to make up ground if they can take care of business.
The difference between the two seed and three seed in the eastern conference is massive this year, which makes this recent skid that much tougher to swallow. Playing an opening-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers or Pacers is a much tougher task than the Nets.
Whether the Celtics would be in jeopardy of losing an opening-round series to the Pacers or 76ers is one thing, however, they need a first-round series against the Nets for the sake of rest. As previously discussed, the Celtics are already battling injuries and do not have the personnel to withstand missed games from their key players. Being able to make quick work of a Nets team, where you can be comfortable limiting your starters minutes, would be a luxury this Celtics team could desperately use.
If the Celtics plan on going on a deep playoff run, they are going to have to be reliant on their stars playing heavy minutes. Against teams like Toronto and Milwaukee, you’re going to need Tatum, Brown, Walker, Hayward, and Smart for roughly 40 minutes a night. The Nets will not force you into a long, hard-fought series. The Pacers or 76ers very easily can.
It’s time to panic about the bench. There’s no real consistency from any one player where you can feel good about what they offer on a nightly basis. Enes Kanter is matchup dependent and does not see the floor in games that feature small lineups and mobile bigs. Brad Wanamaker has been disappointing on both ends as of late.
In the five-point loss to the Jazz, Wanamaker was a -25 in his 26 minutes of action. Plus/minus doesn’t always paint the whole picture, but in this game it did. The Celtics were 20 points better than the Jazz with Wanamaker off the floor.
At this point, who gets minutes off the bench is going to be solely based off defense and their ability to be impactful off pure energy. Romeo Langford keeps proving he’s the most consistent bench option for the Celtics because of his ability to defend. Robert Williams has looked good since he’s returned from injury and provides interior defense.
I also like Semi Ojeleye, his improvement as a spot up shooter makes him much more viable during stretches. None of these players can create their own shot, but at least they’re making an impact in some way.
Verdict: Panic or Patience?
Overall, it is not yet time to panic about the Boston Celtics after this recent skid. This team is still capable of going on a run as long as they stay healthy and play well on a more consistent basis. However, this recent stretch has told us a lot about how the Celtics will be forced to win.
In the playoffs, the Boston Celtics are going to rely solely on their starting five, plus Marcus Smart, to carry the load. On offense, the Celtics have no one they can go to outside of their core.
The Celtics’ six-man rotation is going to have to play big minutes at an effective level all postseason. It’s not an easy task, but the Celtics have the perimeter talent to get it done. This team is capable of beating any team on any given night, it’s just a matter of doing it at the right time.