The Celtics have been in the NBA's Orlando "bubble" for what feels like forever, but in reality it's only been about a month. Since being there, they've played some really good games, some bad ones and have definitely produced some pretty funny moments. I mean, how can I possibly complain about anything when I get videos of Tacko Fall riding a bike?
That being said, the Celtics now find themselves in the first round of the playoffs, with the Philadelphia 76ers staring them down. And, despite their first game victory, I'm not entirely sold on their ability to dominate the rest of this series. With that in mind, I want to take a look at the Celtics' time in the bubble so far and go over what they need to change, do better and what they need to keep doing in order to be successful for the remainder of these playoffs.
Starting off with the first couple of seeding games that Boston played, the main problem I noticed was an overall lack of energy. You can sit back and blame officials all you want for the first game against Milwaukee, but there were many other issues which led to the C's losing that one. Even if you look past Jayson Tatum's horrendous performance, the Celtics just seemed like they lacked the necessary poise and intensity to win that game.
This subpar energy level continued over the next two games as well, in my opinion. Boston managed to hold on to secure the victory against Portland, but it wasn't convincing to me in the slightest. Then there was the terrible, lifeless performance against Miami, which just further proved my point that the C's weren’t playing with any real sense of urgency.
My co-host Sam LaFrance says this on our podcast, From the Rafters, all the time -- the Celtics always match the level of play of their competition. If they face a really good team, they'll always make it a competitive game. Their energy, intensity and urgency all rise accordingly. However, just like we saw against the Heat (who were without Jimmy Butler), if they draw a team they should beat easily on paper, they'll play worse than they do normally. It's what ends up consistently killing the Celtics when they're trying to close out games.
It wasn't until their game against the Nets that I finally saw some energy out of the C's. Robert Williams and Romeo Langford checked in and brought that much needed intensity onto the floor. Ever since then, I haven't seen many other times where the Celts looked as if they didn't care. This newfound spark will be critical for Boston if it wants to make a deep playoff run.
Aside from their energy level, something else that's been noticeably lacking at times in Orlando is Boston's ball movement. One game where this issue was most prevalent was against the Heat. I think the mindset of a lot of players was that they should be able to beat their defenders one-on-one, so there was a severe lack of passing throughout the contest. However, once the Celtics became aware of this flaw and began passing the ball more in the following games, the results were great. Ball movement soon became the team's identity.
Look no further than the Raptors game just under 2 weeks ago. Boston absolutely killed Toronto in that one and a big reason why was the team's excellent ball movement on the offensive end. The Celtics had their offense flowing and got everyone involved early and often. The Raptors were simply unable to keep up. Additionally, something else that I've been very pleased with in Orlando so far is the Celtics' defense. Aside from a couple games, Brad Stevens has had the C's playing at the peak of their defensive ability. Going back to the Raptors game once again, the Celtics only allowed 57 points to Toronto...through three quarters. That's some of the best defense they've played all season.
I saw this same great, energized-caliber defense once again in Game One of the Playoffs against the Sixers. Despite the seemingly close score, the Celtics were rotating well, staying active in passing lanes and helping on Joel Embiid in the post extremely well. I had zero complaints about Boston's defense on Monday night and only hope that they can continue to defend as well as they did that night throughout the remainder of their playoff run.
With all of this in mind, the Celtics now seem to have a clear identity going forward as they press on in the postseason. They're extremely talented on the defensive end, but they have to continue to play up to their potential in order to achieve the desired results. As for the offensive side of things, ball movement is going to continue to be the key. When Boston plays "iso ball" too much, they can get caught up in the mud. By moving the ball consistently and not becoming predictable, the C's can get into the flow of their offense much easier.
Lastly, the energy on both ends of the floor needs to be there at all times. If the Celtics are playing with enough intensity, like they were on defense against Philly, I truly believe that there's no team in that can beat them in a seven game series. It's when they begin to relax that other teams find their way into the game. Energy = wins. Let's go Celtics.