Celtics: The Jays need help

By Brendan Beauregard, Assistant Sports Editor

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On the night of Jan. 8, the Boston Celtics defeated the Washington Wizards 116-107 to improve their winning record to 7-3. Everything looked promising on Boston’s climb up the NBA mountain. Young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were producing All-Star worthy numbers. Point guard Kemba Walker’s return from off-season rehab on his left knee was on the horizon.

Now, Boston finds itself further down the NBA mountain, at a meager 19-17 in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, with Tatum and Brown feeling the heavy weight of carrying the team offensively. As John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr shouted in 1965, the Celtics need “Help!”

A once 7-3 Celtics team in January transformed into the 19-17 squad in March with a sub .500 record during the month of February, per ESPN. The Celtics also place outside the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating, per NBA.com—two statistical categories Boston sat comfortably in the top five of last season

It’s important to note how rocky a road Boston traveled after that win against Washington earlier this year. Celtics players Tatum and big man Robert Williams were diagnosed with COVID-19 in January, which halted the rhythm the Celtics were building on.

Then the injury bug flew into Boston’s locker room and caused more disruption. Rookie guard Payton Pritchard missed six games because of a knee injury against the Philadelphia 76ers on Jan. 22. The heart and soul of the Celtics, Marcus Smart, suffered a calf injury back when Boston played the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 30 and hasn’t played since.

But consider the teams that beat Boston in February—the Atlanta Hawks, Wizards, Detroit Pistons, and New Orleans Pelicans. What do all four of those teams share in common? Each of them wields a record below .500, per ESPN. Smash that yikes button instead of the like button, folks.

Boston’s top duo of Brown and Tatum showed February fatigue. Tatum shot a cold 39-percent from the field and 30-percent from beyond the arc in February, according to ESPN. Brown ended the month with 40-percent from the field and an ugly 27-percent from three in his last six games, also per ESPN.

Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge appeared on Boston radio on Feb. 25 and said the blame isn’t fully on Tatum and Brown for the Celtics’ recent underwhelming stretch.

“I love my two young guys,” Ainge said on 98.5 The Sports Hub. “They’re not perfect, and they’re learning, and this adversity is part of their growth and development—not intentionally. It’s just the nature of the beast.”

Ainge added “we [Boston] don’t have a good enough team” and need to find solutions to improve the team.

Sure, Boston has won four straight games since Ainge’s radio appearance and all signs point towards Marcus Smart’s return after the All-Star break, per the Boston Herald. But these positive signs don’t change the fact that Boston needs reinforcements on both ends.

Ainge should continue scanning the trade market for support. Whether that support comes in the form of Cleveland Cavaliers big man with a master’s degree in rebounding Andre Drummond, or perhaps a consistent fourth scoring option in Sacramento King and NBA Champion Harrison Barnes.

Both Drummond and Barnes are worthwhile targets for Boston. It’s possible Drummond could help rebound Boston’s defense back into the top 10 in defensive rating. Barnes would fill the hole former Celtic Gordon Hayward vacated when he left for the Charlotte Hornets as scoring relief for Tatum and Brown.

I would go after Barnes more than Drummond to help provide that offensive depth for Boston. Barnes currently averages a steady 16 points per game on 49-percent from the field and 39-percent from three-point land according to Basketball-Reference. Having a reliable offensive safety blanket like Barnes can prove useful when either Tatum or Brown has an off night.       

Boston’s ceiling this season right now looks like a top-four team in the Eastern Conference and with the quality to possibly appear in the Eastern Conference Finals. But if the team still has higher aspirations of winning a championship, then now is the time for backup.