Sometimes the difference between one year and the next is not drastic for professional sports teams. However that couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to this year’s Boston Celtics. A big reason is due to the absence of Kyrie Irving, who decided to sign with his hometown team, the Brooklyn Nets, after the 2018-19 season. For the majority of last season, it looked as if Kyrie was bringing his teammates down, whether it was with arguments on the court or the selfish things he would say off the court. No matter what Kyrie would say or do it was obvious that it was affecting team chemistry and creating a lot of tension between players in the locker room.
In the 2017-18 NBA season, the Boston Celtics were able to maximize their talent and made it all the way to game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, without Kyrie. That year Kyrie sat out of the entire playoffs as he was nursing a knee injury and the Celtics looked like a well-oiled machine, coming within five minutes of dethroning Lebron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers and going to the NBA Finals. That year was also Jayson Tatum’s rookie campaign and he made his presence felt in the final game of the season by dunking on Lebron late in the fourth quarter. With all the success came the pressure of expectations from the fans, because everybody thought they would be favorites to make it out of the Eastern Conference, with Lebron going to the Los Angeles Lakers and Kyrie returning to the team.
Unfortunately, the following year the Celtics ended up losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in game 5 of the second round. After Kyrie left, the Celtics were in desperate need of a point guard who could not only score, but could also spread the floor for his teammates. Thankfully, Danny Ainge found just the right guy in Kemba Walker, who signed with the Celtics on a four year, $141 million contract. So far this season, Kemba has been worth every penny, as he has elevated his game as well as those around him. Both Jayson Tatum and fourth year rising star Jaylen Brown are putting up career numbers after everyone witnessed a dip in their game the previous season.
The change from Kyrie to Kemba had an immediate impact on the team as the Celtics caught fire at the beginning of the season, winning 10 games in a row and placing them atop the Eastern Conference. Both Brown and Tatum are also a huge reason for the success of this year’s team, because it gives the offense a variety of scoring options which consistently keeps the opposing teams defense off balance. Kemba and Tatum were both elected to this year’s All-Star game and a strong case could be made that Brown deserved to be there too. This was Kemba’s fourth time being selected as an All-Star and Tatum’s first, which is very impressive considering he is only 21 years of age.
Since being selected as an All-Star on January 30th, Tatum has been averaging 27.3 points per game and has put the world on notice that he is going to be the face of the Boston Celtics franchise going forward. Tatum, Brown, and Kemba aren’t the only ones helping out, as the resurgence of Gordon Hayward has provided a spark to the Celtics along with the tenacious defense of Marcus Smart. Boston’s bench has also been playing at a high level in recent months, with players like rookies Grant Williams and Romeo Langford making a name for themselves on the defensive end.
The bottom line for this team is that they need everyone to step up and contribute come playoff time and if they can do that they’re going to have a great chance to make it to the NBA Finals this year.