Celtics Reflect on Season After Falling Out of First Round
After their roller-coaster season came to a final halt Tuesday night, the Boston Celtics collectively looked back and offered a level-headed perspective on the not-so-level journey that they had just made.
They reflected upon an experience that was full of unexpected ups, downs, twists, turns, and plenty of “curveballs,” as head coach Brad Stevens likes to say, consisting of injuries, illnesses, and unpredictable circumstances that never allowed the team to thrive at full strength and play to its fullest potential.
The hope had been to have it all come together – to level out – by the time the playoffs began. But instead, the Celtics found themselves short three starters in the first round against the most potent offense in league history.
As they looked back, they realized that they had come a long way in spite of the roadblocks they had faced, in spite of the .500 regular-season record they had accumulated, and in spite of the first-round defeat they had just suffered at the hands of the second-seeded Brooklyn Nets.
And that was the message that Stevens tried to get across to his players inside the Barclays Center visitors’ locker room following their season-ending, Game 5 defeat.
“I just told the team that in a lot of ways, it was as hard of a year as many of us have been through and they did nothing but stick together and improve,” Stevens relayed to the media following Tuesday night’s 123-109 loss. “We didn't play perfect basketball, but we showed a lot of growth in the past few weeks, both individually and at times collectively. And so there's stuff to build off of. But at the same time, the task is tall and if you want to be in the mix, then you've gotta be better than we were.”
Just to highlight some of those areas of growth…
We saw Jayson Tatum rise to a new level of superstardom, delivering four 50-point games over the last month and a half of the season while also averaging 30.6 points per game in the postseason against Kevin Durant and the Nets.
We saw young players such as Aaron Nesmith and Romeo Langford, among others, step into larger roles and show great flashes of hustle and potential.
We saw Kemba Walker string together a tremendous stretch of games before suffering a knee injury in Game 3.
We saw Robert Williams develop into a feared rim protector and record-breaking shot-blocking machine.
We saw Tristan Thompson turn into a fireball of postseason energy, particularly on the offensive glass.
We saw newcomer Evan Fournier push through lingering side-effects of COVID-19 all while adapting to a new system to become one of Boston’s most reliable scorers down the stretch.
And in the last couple of games, we saw just about every role player step up in some capacity while attempting to fill the voids of Jaylen Brown, Walker and Williams.
“I think that we showed, when we’re totally together on both ends of the court, that we can be a handful no matter who’s in the game,” said Stevens. “And I think that that’s been the staple of good teams all over the league in the past.
“It was not always the case earlier this year. As you know, we had moments where we didn’t meet the moment with whoever was available, like maybe we have in the past. And that’s probably the most disappointing part of our midseason, but we got better with that as the year went on. And we take some individual guys that I thought raised their level and got a little bit better. Obviously, Jayson’s the obvious one, but there were several others. I thought Romeo was great [Tuesday night, scoring a career-high 17 points] and showed signs throughout the course of the last few games that he can build off of heading into the summer. And others did a good job too.”
Even though they did a good job down the stretch, it wasn’t good enough to outweigh the talent of Brooklyn’s healthy, star-studded roster. But despite knowing the odds were stacked against them, the Celtics kept fighting.
“What happened in the past two weeks is that a team came together and fought,” said Thompson. “And I think that's what Boston represents: People that are going to fight no matter what the outcome is dealt with. That's what we did in the series. We fought and we earned some respect around the league."
Added Marcus Smart, “We obviously wanted to do more, but I’m proud of the way these guys fought. I’m proud of their attitude. We could have easily just said let’s go home, but we continued to go out there and fight. The odds weren’t in our favor, but you live with it, that’s part of it, you move on, and you come back stronger.”
In order to come back stronger, the Celtics will have to come back healthier. And there are other areas they’ll need to improve upon this offseason, as Stevens broadly highlighted.
“Obviously, we got some really good players and some proven guys, but we have to improve,” said Stevens. “There's several ways to do that. You can improve through continued development and the right work ethic and doing a good job with the developmental stuff. Then obviously, there is the ability to acquire people. This team that beat us is a very good team. There are very good teams across the East and we have to get better. We never got a true look at this team this year, but I think we have enough information that shows that we need to get better.”