Final Stretch: Boston Celtics Finally Gaining Health and Momentum as Season Comes to Close and Playoffs Loom

As we head into the final stretch of the 72-game-condensed-upside-down-COVID season from hell, the playoffs are finally in sight. Seventeen games remain on the calendar until the play-in tournament (May 18-May 21) with the first round starting on May 23rd.

The Celtics are currently 29–26, having won 6 of 7, matching their hottest stretch since three weeks into the season. If we remove those two 7-game stretches (12–2), the C’s went 17–24 during the bulk of this year…which is why it’s been such a difficult season for us C’s fans…but they went 17–24 while missing multiple mainstays in the top 8 of their rotation. In addition, Tatum returned at less than full health after dealing with COVID. In that month following Tatum’s return, the team went 5–11. Tatum just explained he’s been using an inhaler before every game since returning and he is only now (two months later) feeling like anywhere near full health.

While the Celtics defense is still mediocre at best, the swagger slowly seems to be returning to Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart and possibly Kemba. Robert Williams never had any issues with his swagger. I have no idea about the internal confidence level of Evan Fournier. Tristan Thompson plays hard and does the dirty work pretty well. Confidence isn’t an issue for him as much as matchups and health.

Some Positive Momentum At Last

I’m writing this update because I’m reinvigorated by the team’s play in last night’s win over Portland…a team also heavy on offensive talent and swagger but one that has struggled with defensive issues and player absences due to health.

I’m also optimistic because the Celtics have the 5th easiest remaining schedule in the NBA. Atlanta has the 9th easiest and Miami has the 12th. On the flipside, the Knicks have the 7th most difficult slate of opponents remaining.

So…is this Celtics team ready to make Eastern Conference playoff noise? Who the hell knows. I’m terrified of the Sixers and Nets. The Bucks’ fortunes are heavily dependent on Jrue Holiday’s health.

I think this team can beat the Hawks or this year’s version of the Heat in the First Round…and that’s more than I thought two weeks ago. Tatum’s play has improved with each week removed from the three weeks of COVID hell he dealt with in January.

Tatum and Brown, like most stars, get extra hyped for the primetime games. If you consider how many playoff games they’ve played in their young careers, there’s a case to be made that this extra rocky regular season for the Cs has been heavily impacted by lack of inspiration due to health/long and condensed 72 games/absence of fans bringing the energy they’re so juiced by and accustomed to with all those playoff games.

It’s been nice to see Romeo Langford play solid defense and get acclimated on the bench. He’s still promising. If he could knock down 37% of his threes….

The Rest of the Regular Irregular Season

A dive into the remaining 17 regular season games:

Thu, Apr 15 @ Los Angeles Lakers

No LeBron or Anthony Davis. Andre Drummond and Kyle Kuzma and Dennis Shroeder (is he suspended?) The Lakers are just trying to get healthy for mid-May. I think this was the plan all along after winning the title in Orlando two months before this season started.

Sat, Apr 17 vs Golden State Warriors

The Warriors are also a mess. Steph Curry is one man and he went down with a tailbone crash landing. Wake me up when Klay Thompson can play again (next year). The NBA misses Klay. For entertainment purposes, Steph vs Zion in the 9 vs 10 play-in would be lots of fun. The Spurs have a tough schedule remaining and could slide to #11. Hopefully this one goes well for the Cs. Need to continue to build momentum from this road trip. They say the first game back after a road trip is usually tough, but maybe the Saturday night ABC special and the fact that it was only 3 games makes it easier.

Mon, Apr 19 vs Chicago Bulls

As good as Nic Vucevic is offensively, both he and Zach LaVine are score-first players. These Bulls still lack the playmaking and defense needed to be a real threat. Coby White and Lauri Markannen are sometimes very good…sometimes not very good. Thaddeus Young and Daniel Theis are excellent defenders. This team should be better than they are. Perhaps Billy Donovan isn’t all that great a coach after all. Perhaps the franchise’s past dysfunction needs more time to diminish. The Bulls are looking like the #10 seed and will face the Pacers in the play-in. Who knows if they’ll find any coherence by then. Not a terrible team, but floundering as usual.

Thu, Apr 22 vs Phoenix Suns

This one should be a true barometer game for the Celtics. Is this recent streak proof they have turned something of a corner and can compete for 48 actual minutes with a true top-tier team? I still miss Jae Crowder. He’d be very useful as a 6th man on this Celtics team. Phoenix has remained healthy while everyone but the Clippers and Jazz have seen their team decimated by injuries lately.

Fri, Apr 23 @ Brooklyn Nets

I’m slightly terrified of this one. Durant is back. Irving is playing at his peak level. Harden’s hamstring may restrict his minutes, but I’m guessing he’ll be back. This one has the feeling of a statement game. Hoping the Cs keep it close.

Sun, Apr 25 @ Charlotte Hornets

Two games with Charlotte at the end of April (25th and 28th) will go a long way toward cementing the Celtics in the 4th/5th seed range. The Hornets are missing Hayward for two-to-three more weeks and LaMelo Ball for the year because….they simply can’t get a break. Miles Bridges is suddenly very necessary on offense. Old friend Terry Rozier is having a nice year and once again proving the doubters somewhat wrong. Old friend Brad Wannamaker is enjoying his new digs in Charlotte after languishing in Oakland earlier in the year. Don’t like that this is a Sunday matinee.

Tue, Apr 27 vs Oklahoma City Thunder

If the Celtics lose this game to a clearly tanking Thunder team that has dropped seven straight, I will regret bothering to reinvest any emotion or passion in this year’s team.

Wed, Apr 28 vs Charlotte Hornets

See above.

Fri, Apr 30 vs San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are slipping in the standings and don’t have enough shooting…but they are very long, rather young and will be fun soon if they add a shooter or two!

Sun, May 2 vs Portland Trail Blazers

I’m sure the Blazers would like some revenge from last night’s game. Keeping McCollum in check was a huge factor in the win last night. Portland will be fighting to avoid the play-in tourney.

Wed, May 5 @ Orlando Magic

This should be a day of rest for the starters. Hopefully the game is over by the 3rd. And on the 7th day…the weary Celtics rested while playing the Magic.

Fri, May 7 @ Chicago Bulls

See above.

Sun, May 9 vs Miami Heat

Tue, May 11 vs Miami Heat

These two home games with Miami may determine who finishes 4th/5th/6th. This is a great warm-up for the playoffs. These two games might well “heat up” the first round if Atlanta slumps and falls to 6th in the seeding.

Wed, May 12 @ Cleveland Cavs

Another night that should be restful in the season’s final week…unless this season is worth forgetting immediately.

Sat, May 15 @ Minnesota Timberwolves

Karl-Anthony Towns may be given the last couple of games off. Rest, fellas, rest!

Sun, May 16 @ New York Knicks

The Knicks will be angling for that 6th seed as well, or…trying to avoid the 9th/10th seeds.

Let’s hope the Celtics are healthy and confident heading into the playoffs and that this recent hot streak continues…

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