Friday, April 22, 2016

Celtics Playoff Struggles Beyond Their Control

The 2015-16 Celtics have been an enjoyable team to watch.  While lacking a bona-fide superstar, they have come together under the guidance of head coach Brad Stevens to make this season a positive step in the right direction toward a future that looks as bright as that of any other team in the NBA.

Isaiah Thomas made the All-Star Game and may find his way on to the All-NBA Third Team. Stevens, in his third year on the bench, continues to demonstrate why he is one of the best coaches in the league.  Avery Bradley, who should find his way on to the All-Defense team, and Marcus Smart have earned the reputation as one of the best perimeter defense tandems in the the league.  Jae Crowder could join Bradley and Smart in forming a "Green Curtain" of perimeter defense and has also developed into an above-average offensive threat.  Young big men Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk have also made strides in their development.

All these positives should not be forgotten when the inevitable loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs is completed in the next couple of days.

This Celtics team was never going to advance to the NBA Finals or hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy in June.  Their title hopes are on hold for 2018, 2019, and beyond.  They have a top young coach, excellent young talent, some choice draft picks coming their way thanks to shrewd deals made by Danny Ainge, and enough salary cap room to (hopefully) attract top free agents to Boston.

This Celtics team was supposed to win a playoff round, or two, so a first round loss will be disappointing, even to a squad as talented as that of the underrated Hawks.

I thought the Celtics would beat the Hawks.  I was wrong.

Yes, the Celtics are going to lose this series.  They are down 2-0 heading into tonight's Game 3 at the Garden.  Celtics players and fans alike will be counting on the ghosts of the parquet to conjure up some Irish luck because this team will struggle to win even a game against Atlanta.

I hate making excuses for any team but injuries will ultimately be the cause of expiration when the Celtics' death certificate is submitted in a few days.

It started when Olynyk hurt his shoulder right before the All-Star break, an injury that continues to plague him.  It continued when Crowder badly sprained his ankle in March, an injury that has limited his effectiveness.  Then, amidst an epic comeback attempt in Game 1, the injury bug stung Bradley's hamstring, an injury that will likely end his season.

The Hawks may have won this series anyways.  Al Horford, Jeff Teague, and the rest of the crew are very talented and are well coached by Mike Budenholzer.  The injury excuse does in no way let the Celtics completely off the hook because even at full strength they may have still exited early from the playoffs.

However, the injuries have cost the Celtics a chance to really compete with Atlanta and have doomed them to doing their best to just avoid a sweep.

The silver lining is that rookies Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter get some playoff experience.  It doesn't hurt to watch Horford, a possible target of Ainge in free agency this summer, do his thing up close and personal for a few games either.

The only thing left to do now is watch the end of a promising season, take solace in watching Stevens squeeze every last ounce of ability out of his limited roster, and prepare for the NBA Draft - the C's have three first round picks, including the Nets pick which at worst will be the sixth overall - and for free agency.  Yes, for the first time ever, the Celtics are primed to be a player in free agency with Kevin Durant of the Thunder the name that all of Boston will be hoping to hear as the newest member of the franchise.

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