How the Boston Celtics Improved from Last Season

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How the Boston Celtics Improved from Last Season

Rob Greene, Sports Writer

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The Boston Celtics, who were projected to compete with the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals, fell way short of expectations.

The 2018-19 season was supposed to be one for the ages for the illustrious organization of the Celtics and their fans. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the rest of the group that was just minutes away from stealing the Eastern Conference crown from LeBron James in 2018 were adding two perennial all-stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. This meant one thing. With Brown and Tatum improving and gaining great experience as well, it was Finals/Championship or bust for Boston.

The dream season was toxic to say the very least. From what should’ve been a 60+ win breeze through the East, ended up being a 49-win second round postseason loss to the powerhouse Milwaukee Bucks and league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Terrible losses would occur frequently, mostly to non-playoff or below average clubs. Despite last year traveling to Philadelphia, Orlando and Miami and seeing all those messes unfold, our most memorable loss on the season had to be at TD Garden on Thanksgiving Eve last year. An absolute blowout by the New York Knicks at home! The Knicks out of all teams!!!! The Celts were leaving the court at halftime and after the contest hearing nothing but boos from the Boston faithful and we all remember seeing the media all over Twitter on how much it was well deserved.

The other definitely had to be in early February. All the fans filed in with nothing but a beautiful vibe after their beloved New England Patriots were coming off yet another Super Bowl victory earlier that week. The Celtics were hosting the all-time rival Los Angeles Lakers, this time with LeBron James on their side which if you’re a basketball fan, you know this was a must win.

Throughout the game Boston was in control, all until a bad bounce of a loose ball ended up in former Celtic captain Rajon Rondo’s hands as he nailed the free-throw line jumper at the buzzer to win the game. The team and their bench were left with faces of distraught. The Celtics were toxic. It was sort of like too many guys wanted to be the man considering they were that close in the spring of 2018 without Irving and Hayward. Although he addressed the TD Garden crowd before the season began saying he was here to stay, the entire sports world speculated that Irving was going to leave and Boston was going to be a completely different team.

From draft night on, the Boston Celtics began to clean house. They had a good start to it by trying to rejuvenate the bench selecting players such as Carsen Edwards from Purdue (had eight threes in a quarter in last preseason game, nine in all with 30 points), Grant Williams from Tennessee and Romeo Langford from Indiana.

Irving went to the Brooklyn Nets along with Kevin Durant even after so many had speculated for a long period of time the two were teaming up on the Knicks as their disaster of an organization is still trying to find their way around being a player destination or even a proper organization in general. Al Horford stayed in the division as well going to the rival Philadelphia 76ers and key role players Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris signed with Charlotte and New York.

When the June 30 free agency approached, Danny Ainge, Celtics President of Basketball Ops. figured Irving was out the door and before that even took place he instantly made a move for a fresh new leader in signing Point Guard Kemba Walker. Walker spent his entire eight-year career in Charlotte carrying the Hornets taking them to the postseason twice all by himself, three all-star games including last season starting in it and making All-NBA Third Team. Clearly his best, Walker averaged 25.6 points per game with 5.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 43% from the field.

Along with finding the perfect replacement for Irving, Ainge found a good one at the center spot for Horford as well. Elite rebounding 27-year-old former New York Knick, Enes Kanter. Kanter, although numbers wise one of the worst defensive bigs historically, fits Brad Stevens and the Celtics system. Boston hasn’t had a man at the five spot who can score and rebound the way Kanter can in the paint since the 2008 championship team with Kendrick Perkins and the one and only Kevin Garnett.

Another positive is that Stevens has a good track record of making what seem to be mediocre defensive teams and individual players on paper into at least someone who can decently get the job done on that side of the floor, Kyrie Irving being one of those individuals specifically. Besides playing exceptional defense in his deep playoff run with the Portland Trail Blazers this past season, the scenario just mentioned is off to a good start as Kanter was ranked in the top five for player defensive rating in the preseason for the Celts. “Shout out to Brad Stevens,” Kanter tweeted.

Not to mention if you know sports, you know that the city of Boston is in love with those guys who do nothing but represent the city with grit, toughness and will put their blood, sweat and tears to do no matter what it takes to win. You know, those Kevin Garnett, Marcus Smart type of players who will dive on the floor, maybe even rip someone’s head off, just compete at the very highest level. Whether it was Utah, Oklahoma City, New York or Portland, Kanter has always been that guy to do everything he can for that city and franchise.

With Kawhi Leonard out of the East, why can’t the sky be the limit once again for the Celtics? Sure, there’s tough teams still like Philadelphia now with Horford and a very tall defensive starting five or of course the Bucks with their shooters and the reigning MVP on their side. Brooklyn won’t have Durant until next season due to that achilles injury he suffered this past June in the finals against Toronto, therefore the Nets aren’t that intimidating with just Irving by himself after he couldn’t even lead a Celtics team with talent around him.

So why not? From training camp, to media day, to the preseason, the chemistry already looks like it’s at an all-time high which it never looked like all last season with that toxicity led by Irving. Not only did Boston get younger, it kind of feels like the team went from like out with the negativity in with the positivity. Like, no more Irving demanding shots and trying to be Batman when he’s really Robin, no more guys with high egos such as Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris who had started on the 2018 almost-finals team and probably still wanted to and no more non-productive Gordon Hayward as he went through this entire summer working out every day to get back to his old self.

The Boston Celtics are at their best when they play as their true identity, a team. Unselfishness. No Kyrie Irving isolation, no hero ball, no forcing three pointers, no lacking on rebounding. Celtics basketball is about aggressiveness, ball movement, frustrating teams on the defensive end at all times and getting out and running. Basically, just excellent chemistry that makes opposing teams fear you.

The 2019-20 Celtics are coming at you with a familiar look and some fresh faces. A look that not only the fans, but all of basketball missed. Talented rookies like Grant Williams who can replace Morris as a “Marcus Smart,” type of player who creates activity with his toughness, intensity, defense and passing. The marksmen guard Edwards can replace Rozier as someone who is an absolute sniper from long range.

This time the C’s are led by Walker. With his ability not only to score at a high level, but get the core of Hayward, Brown, Tatum and Smart the looks they need. “I think everybody has built chemistry with him,” Hayward said. “He’s a pretty easy guy to play with.”

It all started with Tatum recruiting Walker in Paris this past June when the third year forward took the trip with multiple stars of the brand after signing with Jordan. It only got better as all four Celtics: Tatum, Smart, Brown and Walker decided to compete in the FIBA World Cup for Team USA. Boston knew what them and their fans went through last year and knew building a bond early had to be the first move towards any success.

“A lot of people have counted us out,” Smart said. “We use that as motivation. We like it, we like being the underdog.” The Boston Celtics are playing for something to prove in 2019-20. “As soon as they said they wanted me, I wanted to be here,” Walker said. “It’s here. It’s real. And Boston, I’m ready. I’m truly ready.”