by Parker Fields
The Boston Celtics were one of the most disappointing teams of the 2021-2022 season through the first 50 games or so.
They could never find a rhythm and start winning games consistently, their key players were clashing, and the Tatum and Brown era in Boston was looking like it was about to be broken up. Then, something changed with them there seemed to be a new energy with the team.
After an 8-game winning streak and a signature almost 50 point win against Joel Embiid and the 76ers the question needs to be asked, are they contenders or pretenders?
This whole streak started with the Celtics defeating the Pelicans 107-97 on January 29th in an outstanding effort by their two-star players. Jayson Tatum finished with 38 points and Jaylen Brown finished with 31 as they showed when they are both clicking, they are one of the best duos in the whole league. Before this game, the Celtics were sitting at 25 and 25 and the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. The team was looking like they were going to be sellers instead of buyers at the trade deadline unless things changed fast.
The Celtics followed that Pelicans game up with a 122-92 game the number one seed in the Eastern Conference the Miami Heat. This was a balanced team effort with six Celtics scoring in double figures. From there, the Celtics strung together six more wins against some solid teams and some not-so-solid teams.
The reason the Celtics started taking care of games they should win consistently is because they started to get major contributions from players outside of Tatum and Brown. Players like Robert Williams, Al Horford, Grant Williams, and the longtime Celtic Marcus Smart were why they started playing so well.
In February Jayson Tatum is taking just 18.3 shots per game and shooting 45% from the field. Before February Taum was shooting 43% and taking 21 shots per game. Fellow star Jaylen Brown is taking 16.3 shots per game in February compared to 19 shots per game in the months prior. There is a direct correlation to the Celtics' success in those two players sharing the ball more and not forcing as many shots.
The main problem with the Celtics offense was it being very stagnant and predictable. Many of the Celtics possessions were taken down to the last five seconds of the shot clock and then Brown or Tatum in an iso trying to force a tough shot to go in. Now the Celtics are sharing the ball much more and looking for the best shot on offense every time down the floor instead of just force-feeding their two All-Star wings.
Now, I need to answer the question I started with. Are the Celtics Pretenders or are they Contenders?
Honestly, if I had to choose, I’m going to have to say that they are Contenders in the Eastern Conference. Now, I know that the streak just ended, and they lost to the Pistons who are one of the worst teams in the league last night. However, I believe they have shown enough consistency over the last three weeks to show that good basketball is what we should expect to see from now on.
The young Tatum and Brown seem that they are finally buying into the fact that they need to move the ball and trust their teammates more if they want to take that next step as a team. I believe in the current state of the East the Celtics are currently about the fourth or fifth best team but I do believe Tatum and Brown are starting to figure things out and learn how to win in this league.
The Celtics are getting hot at the right time and if I’m any team in the East, I don’t want to play them in the first round.