This Celtics team had a ton of talent and heart. What they didn’t have was any gas left in the tank. We talk a lot about how incredibly they played since January – what we don’t talk about is what it took to get to that point.
I’ve said it on these boards a few times now but this team completely overhauled their system, with their switching defense move scheme and, particularly, the playmaking of Tatum and (to a lesser extent) Brown. It took a lot of failure—and a ton of minutes—to get it right. Posters regularly killed Ime in the first half of the season for playing the starters too many minutes. It wasn’t a mistake – it was a necessity, to get the guys to buy in and really understand the system intrinsically. And to turn Tatum into a superstar.
And it worked. The team was far and away the best in the NBA for the longest stretch this season. Tatum took the leap. Brown and him worked extremely well together. The defense was ridiculously good.
But it also came at a cost. Some players got hurt (Rob), others wore down (Tatum, Horford). It also meant Ime couldn’t develop his bench the same way – guys like Pritchard got no run until the final weeks of the season. Neismith got almost no run at all.
I mean, just look at this:
And that’s, I think, why they started to fade in the playoffs. They probably should’ve beaten the Bucks in 5 or 6 and the Heat in the same. But they were clearly exhausted at certain points, as early as midway through the Bucks series – guys were tired and the bench couldn’t be relied upon to really deliver for long stretches.
All that said, I’m super optimistic about this team. His tired Finals notwithstanding, Tatum took the leap and will be hungry for more. Brown is an incredible 1B who can also take over for long stretches. Smart is DPOY. Al is great and will be giving more minutes to Grant. If Rob can get healthy, I think they are the unquestioned favorites next year. Even if he doesn’t, I think they’re up there. And it’s going to get better from here. Because now the team can just execute the system and not have to learn it on the fly. And it’s a good fucking system with good fucking pieces.