Boston Celtics: Upcoming schedule to test group’s mettle

(Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images) /

With the Boston Celtics losing back-to-back games after standing pat at the trade deadline, many fans can’t help but feel as though the sky is falling. Their upcoming string of games will prove if this team is for real or not.

The Boston Celtics and general manager Danny Ainge chose not to make any deals at the trade deadline, which for a team pegged to compete with the Golden State Warriors at the beginning of the season, is not a bad plan.

However, with the rest of the conference elites improving their rosters, many have speculated on the Celtics’ standing in the new East. The Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks all made moves that either shored up roster needs or drastically improved their talent level.

After two disappointing losses to both the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, the Celtics have found themselves in a tough position. According to the Phil Jackson Theory, they are no longer contenders by dropping to 35-21 on the season and not reaching the coveted 40 wins before 20 losses.

Of course, this does not actually mean anything. Those numbers are arbitrary and were unlikely to be met anyway, regardless of Boston’s hot play before the two losses. Three of those five necessary wins were to come against LeBron James and the Lakers, as well as wins at both Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

Even though the Celtics’ record the last 10 games is 7-3, the team has noticeably been slumping through their latest stretch of three games, going 1-2. Marcus Morris commented on the state of the team, lamenting how they have been dragging lately:

Moving forward, Boston has to deal with its Eastern Conference foes’ loaded new rosters in a gauntlet test that will show what this team has coming in the postseason.

What the Celtics need more than anything right now is a good, solid team win that involves production from the top of the roster down. The team needs to be galvanized by some sort of catalyst, and preferably, that’s beating up on their rival, the Philadelphia 76ers.

After acquiring Tobias Harris, the Sixers dramatically improved the talent level of their starting five. Effectively swapping out Wilson Chandler for near All-Star Harris was a no-brainer for them, even if it meant departing with surprise impact bench player Landry Shamet and a healthy dose of picks.

The Celtics still match up about as well as anyone can with them. The versatility allowed to them on defense by Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris and Al Horford means they can fairly comfortably cover the Sixers’ five-man unit of Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid.

Newly minted Philadelphia 76er Tobias Harris guarded by Boston Celtic's
Newly minted Philadelphia 76er Tobias Harris guarded by Boston Celtic's /

Same goes for how they match up with the Milwaukee Bucks. With Nikola Mirotic — who operates as a sort of 6’9″ J.J. Redick when firing on all cylinders — running off screens and spotting up, the Bucks have added even more shooting to complement Giannis Antentokounmpo’s inside dominance.

The Celtics have the size and versatility necessary to matchup with each team’s dominant inside-outside games, which revolve around non-shooting playmakers in the Greek Freak and Ben Simmons. They have the personnel necessary to match up with both team’s playmakers, inside forces, and shooters.

While Philly and the Bucks added new elements to their offensive games, the Toronto Raptors upgraded Jonas Valanciunas to Marc Gasol. They play similar styles, but Gasol has considerably more talent and accolades. Horford will have his hands full dealing with Big Spain and everything he did to make the Memphis Grizzlies such a pain to play against for roughly the past decade.

With the Eastern Conference’s top four teams all capable of giving the Golden State Warriors (or whoever survives the three-round bloodbath in the Western Conference playoffs) a really interesting series, Boston will have to separate its from the pack with its electric young talent and steadying veteran play.

With games coming up against those three teams, as well as the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors over the next 10 games, the Boston Celtics will have to prove they can hang with the best of the best now, or they will most likely face an early exit in the postseason.

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The Celtics can, and maybe should, win at least five of those six, and the fans should demand nothing less of this team. They need to find themselves as a complete unit before the other league greats take advantage of them.