After an Impressive Run, What’s Next for the Celtics?
If Lebron James decides to stay in Cleveland next season, he will have some stiff competition. Despite a crushing Game 7 loss to the Cavaliers, the Boston Celtics are a young, talented team that is set up to contend for years to come.
To say that the Celtics have exceeded expectations this season would be an understatement. They won 55 games, all without the services of prized free agent acquisition Gordon Hayward, out with a leg injury. When leading scorer Kyrie Irving was ruled out for the entirety of the playoffs, Boston kept on coming, winning series over Milwaukee and Philadelphia, emerging young teams who were favoured by many. Of course, they just took the Cavs to the brink of elimination, before Lebron had other ideas.
Much of Boston’s surprising success has been attributed to head coach Brad Stevens. From current players such as Al Horford, to NBA legends like Kobe Bryant, the basketball world has not been shy in singing Stevens’ praises.
“I think (Stevens) observes a lot better than other coaches,” said Kobe.
Under contract until 2022, Stevens will continue to work his magic, while bringing the still-learning Celtics along as they develop into an Eastern Conference power.
Of course, the players themselves must be mentioned.
Jayson Tatum has been one of the breakout stars of the postseason. After an excellent rookie year, Tatum has been superb over the past few weeks, looking mature beyond his 20 years.
Tatum picked up the scoring slack in Irving’s absence, upping his scoring average from 13.9 in the regular season to 18.2 in the playoffs, while experiencing little dip in efficiency. Such scoring prowess on a contending team this early in a career is very uncommon. In fact, Tatum’s 351 total playoff points were 1 away from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s record for postseason points by a rookie.
James, the victim of a vicious poster dunk from Tatum in Game 7, acknowledged the young Celtic’s talent and potential.
“I just love everything about the kid, the way he plays the game, his demeanor, where he comes from,” Lebron said. “I just know he’s built for stardom. He’s built for success. And that’s both on and off the floor.”
Similar compliments can be given to Jaylen Brown.
Brown took a tremendous step forward in his sophomore season, more than doubling his scoring average, while increasing his efficiency despite taking on a greater role in Hayward’s absence.
An emerging two-way wing, Brown continued his rise in the playoffs. Despite a poor Game 7, he averaged 18 PPG, and became the youngest player in Celtics history to score 30 points in a playoff game.
Brown’s teammates have recognized his immense improvement from a rookie season where he often struggled.
“It’s night and day (from last season),” says Horford.
Terry Rozier completes Boston’s triumvirate of young stars.
To most observers, Rozier’s success is easily the most surprising of the three. In contrast to Brown and Tatum, both former high school All-Americans drafted 3rd overall, the point guard’s rise has been relatively unexpected.
Drafted 16th overall in 2015, Rozier had never even started a game before this season. Handed the job, and the ball, once Irving got hurt, he guided Boston through their deep playoff run, averaging 16.5 PPG, 5.7 APG and 5.3 RPG, to go with his usual tough defense.
“(Terry’s) got a freedom now without Kyrie,” said Sixers head coach Brett Brown during the team’s playoff series against Boston. “He becomes sort of what they needed in Kyrie. He’s got a real ability to score. He has a dance with the ball that I think is elite. And there’s a freedom that he has (that) sort of partners with his confidence under a pretty impressive skill package, and it’s a perfect storm. He provides a heck of a plan B.”
This playoffs has shown that the Celtics posses a wealth of young talent, even when far short of full strength. With Hayward and Irving expected back next season, Boston looks downright scary.
“Gordon is progressing well,” said Celtics GM Danny Ainge on Monday. “We think that he’ll be playing basketball in the next couple months.”
Though coming off a tough series, the Celtics can learn from their loss. Just ask one of their few veterans.
“It’s a great learning tool,” said centre Aron Baynes. “My first year in league we (the San Antonio Spurs) lost in the Finals, and we came back with a different drive, a different level of energy.”
A healthy, re-focused Boston Celtics, another year older, should be a force next season, and for years to come. It will only get better from here.