The Boston Celtics are the early favorites to win the Eastern Conference, but what does their uneven start mean for their NBA championship quest?
Entering October, with the LeBron James leaving the East for good, the Boston Celtics have felt like the overwhelming favorite to win the conference. The only problem is that since the 2018-19 season began, it really has’t felt that way at all. In fact, the Celtics have been somewhat of a disappointment thus far.
Early indications from Boston’s first game against the Philadelphia 76ers were beyond promising. Star point guard Kyrie Irving shot 2-of-14 from the field while Gordon Hayward, coming off his season long ankle injury, shot 4-of-12 … and Boston still smacked Philly by 18 (and it wasn’t really that close).
Since then, Boston lost in a blowout to the Toronto Raptors, barely escaped the lowly New York Knicks due to Trey Burke‘s missed free throws, suffered a loss to the no-good Orlando Magic, and picked up a massive come-from-behind win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although that last one sounds impressive, it should be noted the Thunder have zero wins. Their best win might have been handing the previously undefeated Detroit Pistons their first loss on Saturday night.
If we’ve learned anything this season, it is that star power is driving teams to victories. The Kawhi Leonard-led Raptors and Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Milwaukee Bucks are the only remaining undefeated teams.
Unfortunately for Boston, their superstar Kyrie Irving has looked like a shell of himself since the season began. Irving is shooting a putrid 39.1 percent from the field and (gulp) 24.1 percent from beyond the arc.
Shooting percentages usually regress to the mean, which is favorable for Irving, but the most eye-opening numbers are the free throw line numbers. Kyrie is getting to the line just 2.2 times a game and is shooting an abysmal 69.2 percent (20 percent lower than his career average).
Jayson Tatum has been a great go-to volume scorer for the Celtics, but he is shooting just 29.2 percent from the 3-point line. Those shots need to fall for Boston to be on a championship-caliber level. Tatum is, however, scoring 16.7 points per game and grabbing 8.5 rebounds per game — both up from his rookie season.
The rest of the rotation has horrific shooting numbers as well. In fact, Marcus Morris and Daniel Theis are the only Boston Celtic averaging at least 10 minutes per game while shooting higher than 43 percent. The league average is 46 percent over the last three seasons.
There is work to be done in Boston if it plans on playing into June. The shooting percentages need to be improved, yes, but the lack of a superstar presence on the court has failed the Celtics. It is time for Kyrie Irving to step up to the plate and take over games.
Boston’s depth is keeping the team afloat for now, but the lack of efficiency from the starters all the way down the rotation is cause for concern. There is plenty of time to turn things around, but right now, the Celtics do not look like the championship team we all thought they’d be.