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Inconsistency killed the 2022-23 Boston Celtics, but why?

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When the 2022-23 NBA regular season came to a close, the Boston Celtics stood at 57-25, good for the second best record in the entire league.  That standing doesn’t exactly scream “inconsistent”, considering that there were far more highs than lows when you look at the big picture.  So why did this year feel like it had so many peaks and valleys?  Because the lows always seemed to be a little too low for a team with championship aspirations.

Here’s a quick summary of the year with the highs in green and the lows in red:

Started 21-5 through 12/7, including wins against Philadelphia, New York, Memphis, Denver, Phoenix, and two wins against Miami.  Best team in the NBA.

Lost five out of six, beginning with a Finals rematch on the road against Golden State, and including back-to-back losses to the Orlando Magic who finished the season 14 games under .500.  Then they won four in a row and lost two more in a row, totaling a 5-7 record in 12 games following the 21-5 start.

Won nine in a row.  Already their second nine-game winning streak of the season and we’re only in January.  That’s impressive.  The ship had been righted.

Lost three in a row, including their third loss of the season to the Orlando Magic??  Then they won two in a row before losing to Phoenix at home, totaling a 2-4 record over six games.

Won seven out of eight, including two wins against Philadelphia and a win over Ja Morant and the Grizzlies.

Went 5-6 over their next 11, including their third three-game losing streak of the season (too many) when they fell to Nets at home after blowing a 28-point lead, the Knicks at home, and the Cavaliers on the road consecutively.  They also lost on the road to a Houston Rockets team that was 15-52 at the time.  The Brooklyn and Houston losses are both candidates for worst game of the season.

Finished the season by going 8-2 in their last 10.  One of the losses was to a Wizards team that had lost 10 of their last 13, followed immediately by a 41-point win over the Bucks in Milwaukee.  Their best game of the season.

Every time you thought this team had really found their stride and were ready to rip through the East, they would turn in a new “worst loss of the season”.  The amount of times we had to hear the phrase “we let go of the rope” in a postgame interview was nauseating.

These issues followed the Celtics into the postseason.  The highs of your best player dropping 51 to win a Game 7, or forcing a Game 7 after going down 3-0 in the Conference Finals, were ultimately overshadowed by the lows of going down 3-0 to an eight-seed in the first place, or finishing the playoffs with a losing record at home (5-6).  For all the talk of how the 2007-08 team surprisingly struggled at times during their playoff run, they always took care of business in their building.  They were 13-1 at The Garden in the postseason.

Recency bias will have us pointing to things like Jaylen Brown’s ballhandling or the team’s lack of shot-making as the culprit behind the Celtics’ inability to maintain a consistent winning culture, but these comments from Malcolm Brogdon should tell you the most important ingredient that was missing from rookie head coach Joe Mazzulla’s recipe: prioritizing defense.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“It was the issue,” Brogdon said. “This was a team last year that prided themselves on defense. Defense was their calling card. And then this year, offense was our calling card, and I don’t think you win championships with the better offense than you have defense.”

When a team underachieves, the blame has to be placed somewhere.  Looking at the facts, watching the games all season, and listening to statements like this one, it’s hard to say the last-second coaching change prior to training camp last summer wasn’t the reason for this team losing much of the identity that we saw on their run to the NBA Finals a year ago.  It’s not Joe’s fault, as he was thrown into a situation that he simply wasn’t prepared for.  His philosophy of focusing on three-point shooting above all other aspects of the game, and refusing to move away from that mindset when the shots weren’t falling, proved to be ineffective.

Perhaps the Celtics should have done more work in finding a replacement for Ime Udoka.  Maybe the position should have been awarded to Damon Stoudemire before he left to be the head coach at Georgia Tech.  We’ll debate all summer about what could have been done differently, what direction they should head in, and what changes should be made.  The fact is they still have one of the strongest cores in basketball and their two best players are 25 and 26.  An NBA prime is typically 27-33, and LeBron and Jordan didn’t win their first rings until age 27 and 28, respectively.  I say this to say that nothing drastic should happen in terms of the roster, but new voices and leadership in the locker room appear to be desperately needed.  It’s time to put our trust back into Brad Stevens and see what he has in mind when it comes to improving the coaching staff before the fall.




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