The 2018-19 Boston Celtics were in a word; disappointing. But as a fan who watched about 70/82 regular season games, I can’t say that the way the team exited the playoffs shocked me.
I noticed something was wrong with this team in just its fourth game of the season, when it fell to the Magic at home, 93-90. My fears became reality, as the young season moved on when the team lost three straight home games to the Jazz, Knicks, and Mavericks, earning them just a 10-10 start to the season.
Players promised that things would turn around, and I was almost convinced when the Celtics blew out the Warriors 128-95. Then, the team regressed to the mean and stumbled to just a fourth place finish in the Eastern Conference. If not for the injury to Victor Oladipo, this team could have faced the possibility of a first round playoff exit despite home court advantage.
So, What Went Wrong?
There is not one single way to answer this question. The leadership of Kyrie Irving has been most people/media’s answer to the question, but I believe the answer is much deeper than one guy (I would say that Marcus Smart and Al Horford were actually the leaders). However, the criticism of Irving is certainly a very fair assessment of the situation, and it rings especially true after how poorly he played in the series against Milwaukee.
This team was not built with a winning formula, but they looked so good on paper! I know, I know, but hear me out. The idea of a starting five of Irving, Brown, Hayward, Tatum and Horford, with Smart, Rozier, Morris, and Baynes off the bench looked good on paper, but this team was not built the way some of the more successful teams in the NBA look. The most glaring piece of this team that Danny Ainge did not address was the fact that there were too many guys who needed the ball and not enough “3-and-D” players.
Think about it: the Rockets, Warriors, and Bucks have guys on the roster who know they will not receive many touches unless it is for a wide open shot. Guys like Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Nikola Mirotic, Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Scott, and even JJ Redick are all comfortable taking the backseat on offense and waiting for shots to come to them. The Celtics did not have that.
Danny Ainge gave Brad Stevens a roster full of really talented basketball players that were hungry, but not all were hungry for the same reason. Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris are in the final year of their contracts, so they wanted to prove to everyone they deserved to get paid. Kyrie Irving wanted to prove he was the man, so he wanted to shoot more. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown felt that they led the team to being a game away from the Finals, so they should get more shots. What is the common theme here? Everyone wants the ball.
The high demand for the ball is what ultimately led to complications within the team and Brad Stevens did not know how to coach it, Kyrie Irving didn’t know how to lead it, and Paul Pierce put the nail in the coffin by cursing it after Game 1.
The Celtics will wallow in their failures for the remainder of the playoffs, but Danny Ainge will look to make magic happen with four first round picks and a lot of young assets this offseason.