To say that the Boston Celtics have been having a consistently good season would be a stretch; however, the team has begun to find its groove as of late. Currently in third place in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics sit only behind the Toronto Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks, the latter of which teams just took the Celtics to game seven in last year’s playoffs. The Celtics won the series, of course, but that is a fresh past that the Raptors and the rest of league seem eagerly ready to leave behind, one which in the Celtics seems to have loomed over the franchise thus far this year. Expectations for this team were surely high coming into the season, but it was quickly realized by players and fans alike that the Celtics' path back to the Eastern Conference Finals, and hopefully ultimately the finals, would be anything but guaranteed. Behind that understanding has come to light the virtue that all Bostonians have been practicing, and must continue to practice: patience.
With the trade deadline having come and gone, and the all-star break this month, the NBA is officially turning the corner onto the home stretch of the season, and the Celtics could not have picked a better time to start figuring it out. See, for the Celtics, the question of the season has never been whether the team has the ability or talent to make a run as deep into the playoffs as hoped for, but rather whether this young team, led at the helm by the young guard Kyrie Irving who seemingly wants the world, can come together to do so. The pieces are there, proven by the fact that even without the team’s stars such as the aforementioned Irving or the then newly signed Gordon Hayward, the last year’s Celtics made a run at LeBron James, ultimately falling just short at a chance to go to the finals in losing a game seven in T.D. Garden. But therein was the faulty expectations of this season coming to fruition, and therein one must look to re-grasp the reality of what it is to play a full NBA season.
The Celtics' current win/loss record is 35–19, and the team is five and a half games out of first place in the conference. At this point in the season, it would be understandable to be slightly worried, but it is important to remember that what the Celtics are undertaking is a marathon, and not a race. The team has won 10 out of the last 12 games, and has been doing so with all-star level contributions by the all-star level talent every team in the league knows they have. Irving, one of the voted-in All-Star starters this season, is putting up career highs in field goal percentage as well as in assists and steals, and while some of their core young players such as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have plateaued slightly in production, the chemistry as well as trust in one another that Coach Brad Stevens preaches have steadily been building. Additionally, Tatum was voted to be in the All-Star Rising Stars game, which is essentially the all-star game for up-and-coming talent in the league, which just goes to show that while on the surface the team may not be satisfying the entirety of the fan-base, progress is surely being made.
For the remainder of the season, it is almost safe to say that there is more the Celtics need to not do than change. For one, the Celtics need not change the style of play they have. Unselfishness and prioritizing winning must be the two most driving factors. The Celtics must also not panic. The team is going to make the playoffs, and while likely as a seed lower than would be expected, they will be there. It is imperative when there the team takes each opponent one game, one series at a time. Their coaching the past few years has been beyond exceptional, and so long as the players buy into him, the fans will too. In Stevens we trust. But finally, what the Celtics need to avoid the most for the remainder of the season is giving time or energy speculating on the future of individual players or the franchise going beyond this year. They need everybody focused on the here-and-now, and, while it is understood that the media around this sport love to fuel such fire, keeping any and all drama in-house is going to be vital for this team to make the run it’s meant to. Irving, you may not “owe anybody sh*t”, but you’re under contract for this year, so let’s make it count.