The conventional wisdom from NBA observers was the Boston Celtics were likely to take a step back this season. They had an NBA Finals appearance for the taking before being upset in the bubble by a surprising Miami Heat team in the NBA Finals. Boston then lost Gordon Hayward in free agency in the offseason to Charlotte. Without replacing his role on the wing, it appeared to many that this Celtics team would take a step back this season in the Eastern Conference race to the rising Heat along with the star-studded Brooklyn Nets, and the ever-dangerous Milwaukee Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo inking his long-term contract with the franchise.
Yet what if the loss of Hayward was a convenient money-saving move for general manager Danny Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens for what was always their grand plan: build a team around their emerging superstar duo Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum?
At first glance, Boston’s 10-8 record at the end of January offers little encouragement. But the Celtics have been impacted by COVID. Tatum has missed five games while being in quarantine. He returned on Saturday in Boston’s showdown with the reigning NBA champions. Even in defeat, his performance with Brown demonstrated the potential this team has when at full strength this season.
The Celtics rallied late to put themselves in a position to win the game in the final possession but the Lakers held on for the 96-95. We were happy as Boston plus the 3.5 points was our NBA Non-Conference Game of the Month. Tatum scored 31 points in the losing effort. Brown added 28 points. Anthony Davis led the way for Los Angeles with 27 points with LeBron James adding 21 points. Their 48 combined points were 11 points shy of the Tatum and Brown combination.
James and Davis are scoring 25.2 points-per-game and 22.2 points-per-game this season. Last year, the duo scored 25.2 point-per-game and 26.1 points-per-game.
Tatum and Brown scored 23.4 points-per-game and 20.3 points-per-game last season. However, after last year’s playoff experience and the condensed offseason, these two have returned with a heightened level of confidence and maturity to their games. Tatum is averaging 26.8 points-per-game with Brown raising his scoring average by almost seven points to a 27.1 points-per-game mark. The 53.9 combined points-per-game they are averaging is more than the James/Davis combination both this season and last season.
Brown is only 24-years old. Tatum is a mere 22-years old. The arrow would presumably still be pointing up for both young players regarding what their potential could be. Using the eye test from watching their effort against the Lakers on Saturday, these are two players that have acquired more and more ways to beat opposing defenders.
If Davis’ move to Los Angeles last year changed the paradigm from a Big Three to a Big Two with good help in what was needed to win an NBA championship, Ainge and Stevens may have had the seeds growing for achieving that level of success for the salt four seasons. With the money freed up from not resigning Hayward, the Celtics may be in a better position to acquire the talent to complement the skill set of their young dynamic duo.
Good luck - TDG.