The Celtics missed a golden opportunity in their 102-101 loss on Saturday Night to the Atlanta Hawks. The Celtics came from 16 points down to take a three-point lead in the fourth quarter, but they failed to hang on in a game that they had a great chance to win. In addition, the Celtics lost Avery Bradley to a hamstring injury which will likely keep him out for the rest of the series against the Hawks. Overall, the Celtics shot very poorly in this game. They shot 36% from the field. In addition, the referees didn’t help them much as Atlanta attempted 35 free throws and the Celtics attempted 19. Despite their poor shooting, the primary reason the Celtics lost this game was not because of their offense and the refs. It was due to their poor interior defense and rebounding down the stretch.
The Hawks have multiple players who do a great job of getting to the rim and finishing including Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, and Al Horford. In Game 1, the Celtics lacked the interior defense to stop the Hawks penetration. Amir Johnson, Jared Sullinger, and Jonas Jerebko struggled defensively in the fourth quarter. Kelly Olynyk played so poorly defensively in the first half that he only played 12 minutes in the entire game. This is a big problem for the Celtics are we look towards the rest of this series. The Celtics simply don’t have an interior defensive player who can make a difference on the defensive end and that’s what’s needed against this team. Can the Celtics still win the series? Absolutely. They’re going to give the Hawks a tough series, but it’s not a coincidence that the Hawks have won four out of five games against the Celtics this year.
Here’s the reality. Celtics Nation obviously wants the Celtics to win a round this year to show progress from year to year and to give us all a couple more weeks of playoff basketball to watch. However, is this team good enough to beat Cleveland in Round 2? Seems unlikely. This team is not set up to win a championship this year. Even Danny Ainge has hinted at that. Whether the Celtics win the first round or not, they have made progress. When you go from 40 wins to 48 wins year to year, that’s a good increase. The Celtics aren’t playing for a championship this year. What they’re playing for is playoff experience which will help them in the long-term when they become championship contenders.
We know that the Celtics missed a golden opportunity on Saturday Night. They’ll have another one on Tuesday and more after that. But, when is the Celtics biggest opportunity? That isn’t coming if they play the Cavs. It starts in mid-May with the NBA Draft Lottery. Since the Celtics own the Brooklyn Nets first round pick, they have the third best odds in the lottery. The Celtics have a 15.6% of getting the #1 pick in the draft. They have a 46.9% chance of getting top three pick. In addition, the Celtics have the 16th, 23rd, 31st, 35th, 46th, 51st, and 58th pick. That’s five picks out of the top 35 picks in the NBA draft and eight of the top 58. In other words, the Celtics have 14% of the NBA’s top 35 draft picks.
In addition to draft picks, do you know what else the Celtics have? Cap space. They have the opportunity to clear enough space for two max contracts this offseason. Kevin Durant and Al Horford are free agents. The Celtics have assets. And on top of it all, the have the guy who knows what to do with assets in Danny Ainge. Lastly, they have the coach to put it all together on the floor in Brad Stevens.
Game 2 of the Celtics – Hawks series is Tuesday Night. Hopefully the Celtics can take this game and then give us a fun postseason to watch this spring. Having said that, the real fun begins in May during the NBA Draft Lottery. The Celtics could get a top two pick and land Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. They surely will not be keeping all of these draft picks and they have cap space. Danny Ainge will be a busy man this spring and summer. While the Celtics may not be a true contender this year, it’s likely they’ll be in a great position to do so in 2017. It’s a strong possibility that this will be a Top 5 NBA Team heading into next season.
Sit tight, Celtics fans! The real Golden Opportunity begins in May!