How the Celtics can get people back on their bandwagon


The Celtics bandwagon is pretty empty.

For instance, Glenn Ordway removed the “cute” from his “cute, little team” moniker that he often attaches to a Boston basketball team. He doesn’t even think they can make a playoff run anymore.

TV play-by-play man Mike Gorman also seemingly jumped off last week with his honest assessment of the team in a local radio appearance.

The only people still on board and buckled into a front row seat are Brad Stevens, the 17 players on the roster and Dan Greenberg of Barstool.

While I’m not believing this is a title contending team, I think it’s foolish to write off the 2020-21 Celtics season. This team is too good on paper to play like this.

Some people including former Celtics big man Kendrick Perkins are wondering if the team had tuned out Stevens. Since those questions peaked at the end of last week, Boston won both of its games -- a six-point win over the Pacers and a come-from-behind win over the Wizards Sunday.

It goes without saying that losses drive the conversation on talk radio, Twitter and Celtics reddit (hello r/BostonCeltics). But my question is this: As fast as everyone jumped off the bandwagon, what does this team need to show to have you jump back on?

The obvious answer is Kemba Walker returning to his old form. Kemba needs to be elite in the games he can actually be available for, which would be 30 of the team's remaining 38 games if the rest schedule of no back to backs sticks going forward.

I along with many others wrote off Walker as a guy who can no longer consistently give you efficient production from the point guard spot while playing adequate defense. While the latter may continue to be true, the former has not at least when it comes to his past nine games Walker's last nine games: 20.7 points per game, 41 percent from the floor, 40 percent three-point shooting, 94 percent from the line, and 4.8 assists and 2.4 turnovers per game.

Well, as good as those looked, these numbers are ugly from Jayson Tatum:

Pre COVID: 101/213 FGs (47.4%), 35/80 (43.8%) from 3-point range.

Post-COVID: 164/394 FGs (41.6%), 44/129 (34.1) from 3-point range.

Tatum pre-COVID and post-COVID splits are concerning, but perhaps more game action means a chance to get back into the shape he was in before. Jayson admitted he is still feeling some effects since contracting the virus.

Even more concerning is the most recent play by Tatum, who may need the All Star break more than any player in the Eastern Conference.

Tatum's last nine games: 22.2 PPG, 38.7% FG, 27% 3PT, 85% FT, 4.2 assists, 2.9 turnovers.

And then there’s Jaylen Brown, the second Celtics All-Star selection. After hitting 30 or more points five times before the season hit February, his play has dropped off similar to Tatum’s.

Jaylen's three-point shot has dipped 13 percent when you compare the first two months of the season to February (44% to 30.9%.).

While Kemba has shown flashes of his old self over the past couple of weeks, Brown and Tatum look like they need a week off. Good thing they have that opportunity to do so with a five-day break for All-Star Week.

We saw how bad Kemba’s knee got after last year’s All-Star Game. You know, the one that his head coach Brad Stevens gave him a minutes restriction and yet Kemba defied it. (“I was actually supposed to be on a minute restriction, but the game got too close,” said Walker after last year’s game. “I wanted to be out there. I wanted to compete. I knew down the stretch that it would get serious like that, and I wanted to be a part of it.”)

He has not been, and likely won’t ever be, the same player.

For the Celtics to actually make a run this year, it’s in the team’s best interests for Tatum and Brown to sit out of the All-Star game.

In Jaylen’s case, he has missed games and been questionable with knee tendinitis. If he is going to miss regular season games just a handful of days before the All-Star Game, how can he or the team justify a decision to play in the game?

There are a ton of questions to be answered over the next 38 games. Will Marcus Smart’s return bring this team back to what we saw last year? Can Romeo Langford finally get on the court and get in the rotation as a desperately needed wing depth? Will Jeff Teague not shoot 31 percent from inside the arc for the rest of the season?

All I know is that most of you who jumped off the bandwagon will be right back on when this team gets hot later this season. I’m betting on talent winning out and this group figuring it out. If Boston can pull its head out of its collective butt and play above .500 basketball for the rest of the season, they will win a playoff series.

The No. 4 seed is currently held by the New York Knicks of all teams. That won’t last. Neither will the Celtics struggles.