Coming into the 2019-2020 season the Boston Celtics were underdogs at best. There were no expectations except to see a young team work and play hard with little reward for the next couple of years before they'd be considered true contenders. The bell was rung in Philadelphia by former Celtic, Al Horford, to sound the beginning of another basketball year, and most Boston fans braced themselves for a mediocre season. When the Celtics fell 93-107 to the great Joel Embid and company, it appeared to all that the NBA predictions for Boston were spot on. But then, on October 25, 2020 fans poured into TD Garden poised and ready to give the reigning champions, the Toronto Raptors, a taste of New England hospitality. Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis and Gordon Hayward stepped onto the court which began a 10 game win streak. As a result, hope was birthed. A hope that the former season was over, hope that a deep playoff run was a reality, and perhaps, an Eastern Conference Title. The following 53 games brought highs and lows, two NBA All Stars, and a new narrative throughout the league about Boston's prospects. Celtics fans were anticipating great things, but then, on March 12, 2020, Commissioner Silver announced that he's enforcing a 30 day hiatus due to the Corona virus. While there wasn't anyone who argued this wasn't the best decision, everyone crossed their fingers that basketball would soon resume. "It's possible," Silver said, "I just don't know know more at that his point." Well, here we are, roughly 66 days later, and the courts remain empty and the arenas remain silent, which ignites the thoughts, "What might have been," if Covid-19 never was.
Chemistry Matters More Than Talent
This could have been the season that proved chemistry is probably the most important element in a team’s victory. On paper 2018-2019's team should have easily made it's way to the NBA Finals, and brought home Boston's 18th Championship trophy. Unfortunately, irony struck hard and wrote an entirely different story. It first appeared to be a simple case of a new group learning how to play together, but it quickly became apparent that wan't the case. Multiple losses, closed locker rooms and fights on the sidelines made it clear that an internal war was brewing. There were too many cooks in the kitchen and not enough sioux chefs. Egos were high, and there just weren't enough minutes in a game to accommodate them all. Role players wanted more, which left gaping holes and opponents exploited them all. Fast forward.... a new roster is created, but it's nowhere near the powerhouse list that would lead Boston to victory any time soon. However, from Kemba's entry, to Team USA, to excited rookies, it was obvious that the locker room battles were over and chemistry was on the rise. The aforementioned win streak was initial proof this team not only liked playing together, but liked being together. How could a less talented team bring a projected 7th or 8th seed team to the #3 team in the East? The answer is simple, talent is important, yes, but chemistry has to be greater than any individual, rebound record or star quality.
A Guard Named DPOY
It's no secret that both fans and coaches believe Marcus Smart has been denied Defensive Player of the Year far too long. This year could have been his year. It's not easy for a guard to be nominated let alone chosen for this award, but Marcus makes a great argument that the title should be his. Only five guards have earned this honor, Gary Payton (1996), Michael Jordon (1988), Michael Cooper (1987), Alvin Robertson, (1986), and Sidney Moncrief (1983 & 1984). Smart's intangibles are irreplaceable, and his stats were shaping up to put him in inarguable contention. Averaging 3.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.6 steals, and .5 blocks per game, he already surpasses some of these great players just mentioned. Both teammates and opponents have openly endorsed Marcus as well, Jayson Tatum and Dwayne Wade to list just a couple. There is still hope since the season hasn't been officially closed, but no one quite knows how the hiatus will impact any of these awards. In any case, Marcus Smart has earned this title with everyone in Celtics Nation and should be recognized by the League as well.
The Jays Named #1 Duo
The two man combo is quickly risings in the NBA once again. Many would argue that without a dynamic duo your team has no hope of going very far. Duos such as Jordan/Pippan, Magic/Kareem, Bird/McHale and Cousy/Russell have proven this theory right. Could this season have proved that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were the next triumphant twosome? It has certainly been a break out year for both. Each man has proven his worth to not only Boston, but to the entire NBA. Brown rose to the occasion after signing his $15 Million extension. His inconsistency in previous seasons transformed into 20ppg, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists. He was considered a liability at the FT line, but has improved greatly, now shooting 73.6% at the line. Tatum, while always consistent, was having a break out year to say the least, which included an place on Team LeBron at the All Stars in Chicago. Jayson was becoming the go-to guy in crunch time. Having scoring highs of 39 and 41 points, and equally as effective on the defensive end, many were making comparisons of Tatum's talents to the likes of Kawhi Leonard. Individually both Jays were great. Together they have become unstoppable. When on the court together anyone can see they play off each other's energy and more often than not, both score 19 or more points. It will be interesting to see how they play if this season resumes, especially if there are no fans in the building. Will the momentum continue? Can they still feed off each other without the added extra energy coming from the stands? Only time will tell. Either way, the confidence that Danny Ainge has in the young pair should ensure a hefty contract extension for Tatum that hopefully will keep these two young men playing together for the foreseeable future.
Gordon Hayward Is Back
If there's one player that has a hard time proving his worth, it has to be Gordon Hayward. After his gruesome injury and lack-luster return, doubters, scoffers and even some fans were demanding his exit. This season, even in the midst of intermittent injuries, was beginning to prove Hayward's value to the team. In only 45 games, Hayward was shooting 17.3ppg, very close to the 23ppg he was providing in Utah. Teammates were praising his playmaking and fans were enjoying the fact he knew what position to be in to get the rebound, make the assist or when to shoot the ball. Gordon may be the most affected by the hiatus in that history has shown he needs time to find his groove. His value is big, more than most realize. If or when the season returns, Gordon will hopefully pick up where he left off and soar to the top again. There's no arguing the Celtics need his 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
Some cities seem to be getting back to "normal" and opening up practice facilities for the first time since March. Does this mean there's a hope of basketball returning? And if so, what impact will some teams practicing earlier than others have? Will the Title be tainted due to a limited season? Many questions, many what ifs or what could have beens to be answered. The bottom line, as much as we all would love to see our teams back on the court competing hard, the safety of all involved is what's most important. Until then we will watch the greats of the past, hope for the future, and as always #bleedgreen.
Feature Photo by Matthew Coughlin