By: Henry Curi
The unprecedented 2020 NBA playoffs came to a disappointing end for the Boston Celtics. The team fell short of advancing to the finals yet again, as they lost the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat 4-2. So many things surfaced during their last stretch this past Sunday and showed one crucial thing. They are not the complete team people see them as.
Stars Struggle in Pivotal Moments
During this postseason, Boston’s perimeter players were able to take a developing step. Jayson Tatum led the way by averaging 25.7 points per game on 43% shooting. The 22-year-old star was able to put up some stellar games that his team desperately needed, but he was also liable for taking some questionable shots down the stretch.
Head coach Brad Stevens would emphasize how he trusts Tatum to make the right plays at the right times in close games. But against Miami, particularly in Game 6, there were times where his shot selection was easily questionable.
The former Duke Blue Devil went only 3-10 from three-point range and was a -10 on the game. This was the lack of efficiency the Celtics were hoping to stray away from in their best player during such a pivotal game.
Tatum wasn’t the only one facing struggles though, as efficiency was not on their side that night. Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart were shooting a combined 7-23 from beyond the arc, as the two guards came across Miami’s heckling and tough defense.
Walker especially found trouble putting the ball through the hoop from long range in these playoffs. He shot only 31% through their three series. That’s seven percent less than his regular-season average.
A Rising Star, Even in Defeat
For Jaylen Brown, he played as if his career depended on it. He had a team-high of 26 points on 10-17 shooting. Although getting his feet swiped in mid-air by the Heat’s Jimmy Butler and nearly getting injured, he kept playing through it. Not only is he expanding his game from the paint since his rookie year, but he’s becoming an elite three-point threat as well. One that the Celtics crucially need in a win or go home situations.
As the perimeter play is the team’s main go-to for offensive possessions, this series exposed Boston’s essential need for a reliable big man. From the four rotational centers that coach Stevens uses—Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, Enes Kanter, and Grant Williams—none averaged more than nine points a game or grabbed a consistent eight boards a night. To put it into perspective, Tatum, a small forward, was the team’s leading rebounder, averaging 10 per game.
This is something that general manager Danny Ainge needs to take into crucial consideration heading into the offseason. This position may be the finals piece Boston needs to push themselves over the top.
And a particular player from another Eastern conference contender may be the right fit.
Desperation for Crucial Piece
Indiana Pacers’ center Myles Turner is willing to put himself on the trade market. It’s being reported that he wants to leave the franchise that drafted him back in 2015. The opportunity to get a big who can give you more than 12 points a night on continuously improving three-point shooting, while grabbing more rebounds than the Celtics’ current bigs, could potentially be huge.
Although this may sound great, this would involve a massive trade package to equate Turner’s value. This could mean trading players such as Theis, Robert Williams, and maybe even Gordon Hayward.
It may seem unfair for a player of Hayward’s caliber to face the consequences of a lacking center. But something’s become apparent since his joining of the team. He is riddling with injury issues. A severe ankle sprain that kept him sidelined for most of the playoffs became a huge worry. It put him in a position to return a little too early to help his team against the Heat.
Is Hayward’s Time with Celtics Up?
Hayward was nowhere near 100% and it showed. He was visibly slow to get to his spot or to defend shooters. Most notably, he was also missing point-blank lay-ups as well. It could’ve been the mental adjustment that got the better of him. He wasn’t prepared to face such a dominant team coming off a strenuous injury.
As coach Steven’s former player at Butler University, the two have a mutual liking for each other that gels well in the regular season. This year, Hayward averaged 17.5 points before the playoffs started. But it’s been a theme through his tenure in Boston. When his team needs that type of productivity the most from an All-Star level talent like himself, he gets injured.
So if Ainge is looking to accumulate a trade package in order to make a big acquisition for a capable center, it wouldn’t be a stretch if Hayward saw himself in that ordeal.
It’s going to be an interesting offseason for the team. Although the offseason this year is brief due to COVID-19 circumstances, it seems like there may be some answers to their problems figured out. In hopes of breaking this barrier sooner than later.
With Ainge at the helm of basketball operations for the franchise, luck may swing to their favor one way or another.