Jaylen Brown's season-ending wrist surgery feels like that final
weight-bearing Jenga piece being pulled from Boston Celtics fans'
tense tower of sanity.
This season felt cursed. The Celtics have underperformed as much
as any team in the NBA, sitting 35-33 in the home stretch of the
regular season. They just lost a critical seeding game to the Miami
Heat, 130-124, that really wasn't even a contest until the final
quarter -- and have to play them again Tuesday.
The notoriously loud Boston sports landscape has unabashedly
complained about a lack of energy, continuity and consistency this
season. They're all valid observations.
Even with the postseason on the horizon, the 2020-21 campaign
feels like a lost cause. Fans should feel frustrated. Blame should
fly in every direction -- except towards the players.
Brown's loss hurts, but based on this season's trajectory, it's
not a surprise. The Celtics have lost 15 different players to
injuries or COVID absences this season -- tied for fourth-most in
the NBA behind only the Brooklyn Nets (17), Orlando Magic (16) and
Houston Rockets (16). Look at this list compiled by NBC Sports'
That is staggering for the fifth-youngest
team in basketball. How can you expect a roster with an average age of 24.7 to mesh
cleanly on the court when they never get to see each other at the
Even more egregious is the short and long-term impact of
COVID-19. According to data tallied by Fansure, Celtics players
have spent a whopping 167 days in the league's health and
safety protocols this season -- 49 more days than the
second-leading Dallas Mavericks. Jayson Tatum was still using an inhaler as of mid-April
to combat lasting effects from COVID-19 that he had
experienced three months earlier.
Evan Fournier detailed his own experiences of contracting
COVID-19 just after arriving in Boston via trade from Orlando. When
he spoke to the media on May 3, Fournier described the concussion-like symptoms and depth
perception issues he was still feeling.
To recap: the face of the Celtics franchise, as well as its
biggest trade deadline acquisition in a decade, has battled serious
long-term COVID ramifications despite clearing protocols.
Fans should be irate at Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA for
jeopardizing the health and safety of its players. The shortened
offseason, jam-packed schedule and unflappable resolve to play
games in January now has major consequences on this team in May,
and potentially, beyond.
But it's not just Silver on the hot seat here. General manager
Danny Ainge sure loved to put the blame "on my players' shoulders" when
they struggled. But how did Ainge help? He did finally make a small
splash at the deadline by nabbing Fournier. However, based on the
swirling rumors surrounding Nikola Vucevic, Harrison Barnes and
Aaron Gordon, March still feels like a missed opportunity with that
$28.5 million trade exception at his disposal.
Tragically, that wasn't Ainge's only move. He also traded Daniel
Theis and Javonte Green, two well-liked players, to Washington in a
three-team deal for Moe Wagner and Luke Kornet. Wagner is now in
Orlando and Kornet has been a healthy scratch in half of his last
The Celtics currently roster three players over age-26 and zero
over 30. Yet Ainge would pop into Boston sports radio shows with
Brad Stevens isn't exempt, either. In fairness, he's been dealt
a tough hand by Ainge and the league with the aforementioned young
team, short offseason and harrowing absences. But while fans loved
to clamor at the players for a lack of energy, that ultimately
falls on a coaching staff.
Inconsistency has plagued the Celtics since trading for Kyrie
Irving way back in 2017. This year, it's come to a head, with the
usual stalwarts plummeting to the 19th-ranked defensive rating in
But Boston also has a minus-0.4 net rating in first halves this
season, which ranks 18th in the NBA. In the second half, that
improves to a plus-3.2, good for the sixth-best mark in the
Over the last 15 games, however, the discrepancy is much more
noticeable, as the Celtics have been a net minus-6.7 in the first
half (ranked 24th) and a plus-7.6 in the second half
There is a noticeable difference in energy and engagement. It's
on Stevens and the coaching staff to motivate the players to be
consistent, or change the first-half game plan, or do something
different in general -- because the players are doing everything
According to Spotrac, Brown has withstood six
different injuries and illnesses this season, not even including
time spent in league protocols. Finished at the hands of wrist
surgery, there's no doubt that he still put together his best
season by far as a pro.
Kemba Walker has missed 20 games with injuries and illness, yet
is putting consistent games together. In spite of his uniquely
dangerous COVID-related circumstances, Tatum still tied the
franchise record for points in a single game.
Fournier has battled the virus, too, and the jarring experience
that comes with being dealt at the deadline (which is even tougher
during this condensed season with limited practice time). Robert
Williams III has broken out as a potential starting center of the
future -- all while missing 16 games (to date) with four different
injuries and illnesses. Marcus Smart, the heart of the franchise,
missed 20 games with a calf injury, thumb injury and illness. Aaron
Nesmith and Payton Pritchard proved themselves in one of the most
unusual rookie seasons they could imagine.
Do not blame the players for appearing unmotivated during a
miserable season. They've cobbled together a winning record despite
their inexperience, both in the Association and with each other.
The Celtics are still in the growth phase, although most will tell
you that time should pass.
Regardless of what happens in the playoffs, Celtics fans should
appreciate the players for making do with an unstable and hopeless