The Boston Celtics are one of the NBA’s most in-form teams right now, and look like they’re going to be a nightmare for whoever they face moving forwards.
After a horrendous start to the season, Ime Udoka and his coaching staff have righted the ship, and now Boston’s top-ranked defense is leading their charge up the Eastern Conference standings as a result.
With winning comes recognition, and with recognition comes expectations, and that’s exactly where the Celtics find themselves after their March 6 victory over fellow Eastern Conference powerhouse, the Brooklyn Nets. Recently Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer discussed the Celtics’ chances of making it to the NBA Finals and potentially winning it all while appearing as a guest on NBC Sports Boston.
“Right now, in the Eastern Conference, Boston isn’t the favorite. But when you have a guy that can play like the best player on the floor in Tatum, or Brown, when you have two of those guys, and when you have an elite defense, when you have a tight 8–9-man rotation.
If Udoka is able to coach this squad when it’s healthy, without any major injuries, without taking away one of these pieces, then yes, they have a shot at making the NBA finals and they have a shot at winning it,” O’Connor said.
Change of Narrative For Boston
Usually, a team doesn’t make this kind of turnaround mid-season, especially without undergoing major cosmetic surgery in the trade market. Yet, somehow, the Celtics have found a way to save their season and their blushes.
We all remember how easily Boston surrendered leads in the fourth quarter, or Smart calling out Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown after an early-season game against the Chicago Bulls. And for better or worse, Udoka saw fit to hold his team accountable in public, regularly citing underperforming players in his post-game press conferences.
Just when everything looked like imploding, the opposite happened. Buoyed by a healthy squad, Boston started winning games, it wasn’t pretty, but it got the fans back on side. Then the TD Garden started rocking, as the Celtics shut their opponents down game-after-game.
Now, a team many consigned to the play-in tournament looks like an odds-on favorite to capture home-court advantage in the playoffs – assuming they keep up their current level of play and avoid any major injuries. And the team did all of this without selling off one of their best players in Brown around the trade deadline, which only further strengthens the fan’s appreciation for how quickly Udoka’s team has adapted to their new system.
The Players Tried to Preach Patience During Struggles
Thinking back to the early-season press conferences, it’s clear the players were trying to preach a message of patience. Perhaps they were right all along. Not only did the team have a new head coach, but the entire coaching staff had changed in a single summer, along with multiple new faces including Josh Richardson and Dennis Schroder.
Marcus Smart put it best during a post-game press conference after a November 29 victory against the Toronto Raptors.
“Just imagine doing something for years, and then you come into a job where you went to school to get a degree for this job. And then out of nowhere, something that you’ve never studied for, never had experience with, they come in and tell you they wanna do, and it’s supposed to happen overnight. And it’s not gonna happen. You’re gonna take time, you’re gonna have to learn, have to adjust, you’re gonna have to find out how to do it in a quicker way to help you. And that’s what we’re doing,
Ime’s a different coach than what we were used to for those years here in this organization. He brings a different method, mentality to this team, and we knew coming in that it wasn’t going to be easy, we knew we were gonna have ups and downs. Especially learning a new system, learning how he wants us to play, and just getting re-familiarized with him and his coaching staff, but we’ve been doing a great job,” Smart said.
Perhaps everybody was too quick with their expectations for this Celtics team, but now, after clear growth and development throughout the season, everybody’s expectations are valid. All that’s left is for the Celtics to begin living up to them.