5 Things The Celtics Need To Win The Title
On Sunday, the Celtics finished their 77th regular season as a club, winning 57 games — their most since 2008-09 when they won 62. With game 1 against either Atlanta or Miami slated for Saturday at 3:30 PM EST, Boston gets some needed rest ahead of what will surely be a grueling playoff run. Considering last season’s NBA Finals loss to Golden State, there are no moral victories this year — its championship or bust.
That being said, let’s look at five things the Celtics will need to make that a reality.
1. Jayson Tatum Shot Selection
Jayson Tatum is the best Celtics talent since Bird. There’s an argument for Kevin Garnett in 2007 that we’re willing to hear, but it’s close (we’ll take Tatum), and Tatum is already better than Paul Pierce ever was.
Last season JT was named first-team All-NBA, the first Celtics player to receive that accolade since Garnett in 2008. This year Tatum is primed to repeat that, coming off a season where he’s averaged 30.1 points per game, 8.8 rebounds, and 4.6 assists on 47/35/85 shooting splits. That being said, one of the areas Tatum can take his game to the next level is shot selection.
While shooting through slumps is the mark of a confident shooter, we’d rather see Tatum adjust his game and shot selection for higher efficient looks for the team as a whole. The side-step and step-back threes are quite impressive, but as we get further in this playoff run, he can gut defenses by letting the game come to him better and picking his isolations better.
2. Smart Being Smart
It’s hard to think of a more maligned and polarizing player to Celtics fans than Marcus Smart. There’s a big contingent (us included) that loves and trusts him; similarly, there’s a faction that sees him for his worst as a non-shooter with a habit of shooting the Celtics out of games.
No matter how you feel about Smart, he’s been able to adjust his game brilliantly as a defensive combo guard to starting point. The team and coaching staff have embraced Smart, and coming off last year’s Defensive Player of the Year award, they’ll need him to be first to the floor on loose balls and set the tone defensively.
3. Closing Lineups
A victim of their own depth, a criticism of this year’s group and new head coach Joe Mazzula has been rotations and specifically choices for closing lineups of games. The team’s most popular five-man lineup has been Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, and Derrick White, which at nearly 800 overall possessions this season, ranks in the 76th percentile league-wide in points and turnover percentage.
This was partially due to Rob Williams missing time this year; as we saw when Rob was available, it was often Derrick White who was left out of the closing game lineups. This problem will partially work itself out through best-available matchups based on specific opponents, but we will need to see Coach Mazzula’s best as he figures out the best five every night.
4. Grant Williams
Speaking of maligned and polarizing, there’s been a steady stream of negativity following Grant Williams this season. It’s partially due to the stress and weight of his looming offseason, where he’s expected to pursue a contract nearing $20M per season (yet to be seen who, if anyone, will be paying that to pry him away but we’ve seen crazier things happen). Also, due to his up-and-down free throw and three-point shooting, although, to be fair, he has ended the season shooting near 40% from three on a career-high 3.7 attempts per game.
Grant is on this roster mainly as a matchup for the Milwaukee series, where he’ll see considerable time guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s not going to shut Giannis, nobody can or will, but Grant will need to be his best that series as part of a team-wide defensive effort to slow Giannis down. There will be no easy matchups this playoff run, but the Milwaukee series looms as a juggernaut matchup for both clubs.
This goes true for the Celtics and every other team. It’s not enough to have the best roster or be the best team; you often (scratch that, always) need some luck.
Going back to the 1970s and 80s and rumors of leprechauns and innate luck the Celtics had playing in the Boston Garden, recent years have seen that notion dispelled, from Kevin Garnett’s leg in 2009 to Kendrick Perkins’s ACL in 2010 and so many other examples.
This Celtics team is young, hungry, and experienced. They’ll need to play together, trust each other, and stay healthy to reach their goals. We believe they can and will make that happen.
Article by Omar Adrien – You can follow him on Twitter @Jordan11ME! Thanks for reading.