As it stands right now, the Celtics are at a 9-7 record, good for second place in the Atlantic Division, just 0.5 games behind the Raptors. The team has already experienced their fair share of ups and downs as the first month of the 2016 season comes to a close. There’s been health issues, big wins, stinging losses and everything in between. A word to describe the Celtics’ season so far would probably be "frustrating." They’ve done their job, for the most part, and have won against the teams that they should, but continue to struggle against the better teams they face. There’s many things that factor into all of those points, and I dove into just that.
Injuries have been a killer early on for this Celtics team. Two of the more important players on the team, Jae Crowder and Al Horford, have been dealing with injuries that kept them out for an extended period of time. Horford dealt with a concussion that he suffered at practice in late October, that kept him out for a total of nine games, but recently returned to play. Crowder dealt with an ankle injury that he is still dealing with, despite coming back at the same time that Horford did. The banged up Celtics went 4-5 without the small forward in Crowder and center in Horford.
Those nagging injuries were, of course, brutal for the Celtics. They struggled against teams like the Cavaliers, Warriors and even Pelicans without their two prized starters. They couldn’t rebound, had lots of miscommunication, struggled on defense, continuously turned the ball over, you name it. The Celtics with Horford and Crowder are basically the complete opposite of all of that, naturally. Al Horford has been a near godsend for the Celtics so far, averaging 15.2 PPG, 5.3 assists, 2.5 blocks and 8.9 rebounds. He’s even played better post-concussion. As for Crowder, 11.7 PPG, 1.3 assists, and 3.4 rebounds.
Those injuries have made it hard for us to get a feel for who and what this team really is. We can’t really make assumptions about this team, as they’ve played only a handful of games at full health. I’m sure it’s been hard for head coach Brad Stevens, as well. It’s also probably been difficult for certain players to get a feel for what their role on the team is. But, along with those injuries, we’ve been able to see more of what some of our bench players and younger guys are all about.
Jonas Jerebko is one in particular. He had a rough start to the season, but has been an impactful player as of late. He’s hit some big three’s in big situations and has come up clutch with some big defensive plays. I think he understands what his role is and could very well be an important bench player for the rest of the season ahead of us. Jerebko is not particularly a fan favorite among Celtics fans, but he’s playing like he’s trying to change that this season.
Speaking of the bench, as Jerebko has improved, so has the rest of the reserves. The deep C’s bench started off iffy, but have picked up the slack as the games have gone by. Younger guys like rookie Jaylen Brown and second-year point guard Terry Rozier have showed positive signs in their recent play after some earlier struggles. Second unit guys like Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynyk and Marcus Smart don’t necessarily put up big numbers, but they definitely have their shining moments.
One last notable point is the disastrous third quarters the Celtics will have after a decent first half. Everything seems to click in the first half, then halftime ends and things fall apart. The third quarter has been the turning point in a majority of Boston’s losses this season, especially to teams like Golden State and San Antonio. Once a good chunk of damage is done in the third, the C’s try to patch things up in the fourth quarter. It’s nice to see, but a lot of the time, it’s too late. The Celtics will have a sizeable lead at whatever point in a game, then eventually throw it away. Once you think the entire team may have finally figured it out, things fall apart (I really needed to get that out of my system).
It’s early in the season, there’s a long way to go, many games to be played and a lot to learn about this Celtics team, but it’s a good idea to sit down and take a look at what we’ve seen. I think that if this team can stay reasonably healthy the rest of the way, they can be pretty successful, or at least live up to their expectations. They could very well be the second best team in the East. Boston has a talented squad on their hands. Nonetheless, let us let the season play out and take it from there.