The night is darkest just before the dawn, and for 24 minutes on October 25th, the night was virtually pitch black. The Celtics got off to one of the most lethargic, frustrating starts in recent memory in Oklahoma City, starting the evening contest with zero three point makes on 11 attempts. It was a continuation of a surprisingly slow start this season for an offense that was supposed to be made up of 40% three point shooters. Then the lid came off, and Celtics fans everywhere were allowed to breathe a little bit easier.
It’s easy to get frustrated with expectations as high as they were for the Celtics to start the season. With all of the talk that this team had what it takes to battle with Golden State, and how their youthful stars were set to take the next step, of course a glacial start on offense is going to get under our skin. We just need to remember where this team was, where they are, and where they’re going. In other words, relax.
So much of the Celtics expectations stems from the incredible performances during last years deep playoff run. With the emergence of Jayson Tatum as an elite young player in the NBA, and the leaps taken by Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart, of course it was easy to think that this team would immediately get better. After all, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving came back from injury, and Al Horford was still around to act as all around father figure and leader of this basketball team. Who wouldn’t expect this team to get off to the type of start the, say, Toronto Raptors have gotten off to? So, yes, it’s going to be disappointing when things don’t go as planned. It’ll be disappointing to see that the Celtics have the highest percentage of open and wide open three point attempts in the league, while conversely posting the worst three point shooting percentage. But, just relax.
Shooting is never going to be perfect. Sure, Steph Curry has gotten off to a season opening 55% from the field, but that is the highest clip ever through five games, and will certainly come back to whatever Steph Curry’s version of Earth is. Conversely, the Celtics, through the first half of tonight’s game, had hit only 29% of their threes to start the season. A number that low cannot possibly stay that low when the lineup is filled with 40% three point shooters. Everything will balance out eventually. Does anyone really believe Kyrie and Hayward are going to continue to miss open shots all season? Who knows why they were missing open shots; perhaps the Earth was slightly off of it’s axis, or Kyrie’s balance was thrown off due to the added coolness from his new hair. Whatever happened in that first half, and for much of the previous four games, it is highly unlikely to continue over the course of an 82 game season.
Things felt different almost immediately out of the gate of the second half, as Gordon Hayward sat in the left corner and drilled an open three to open the half. It was the Celtics’ first three of the night, and it opened the floodgates. Al Horford would hit back-to-back-to-back three pointers in the quarter, Kyrie found his stroke from deep twice in the quarter, and Marcus Morris poured in four of his five attempts from deep in the second half. Morris’ contribution included a late three pointer to all but win the game for the Celtics. Jayson Tatum remained steady-as-she-goes, scoring 24 points on 8-of-18 shooting. While Tatum has displayed Kobe’s penchant for long twos and overly selfish play, he’s also shown absolute brilliance on offense, and as the rest of the team picks up, hopefully he’ll taper some of the less-advisable shot selection.
This isn’t to say everything is going to be perfect from here on out. The Celtics won’t want to rely so heavily on the offense of Morris and Horford three pointers going forward. It would be nice to see Jaylen Brown find his groove on offense, but it’s important to remember that Brown and Tatum both have to adjust to being third and fourth options, as opposed to the first and second option roles they embraced in last year’s playoffs. This team is different, and in all likelihood better. It’s important that they are allowed to gel, and learn, and adapt to their new roles.
It’s also important to remember that this is essentially Gordon Hayward’s first exposure to playing with the Celtics. After having his season ended five minutes into the 2017 campaign, Hayward is a second year player in a first year role. It’s not fair to expect that he would perform to 100% of his ability immediately, when he still needs to iron out the growing pains. It’s also not fair to expect Hayward and Irving would display a perfect marriage from the onset. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Banner 18 is to be earned, not given.
While the growing pains are still there, a 67 point second half that saw the Celtics outscore the Thunder by 22 is extremely encouraging. Had the score been 67-44 to end the first half, it would have elated Celtics fans. And while it did come on the backs of Morris and Horford, it’s a testament to the depth of this team. Kyrie and Hayward should not play that badly all season, but when they do there will be guys to pick them up.
The Celtics will be just fine. They were never going to finish the year 82-0, or 73-9. 60 wins was never a guarantee, and if taking the time to gel and become the best team possible means sacrificing the number one seed and favoring progress over results, so be it. Golden State and Cleveland both have proved home field advantage is less meaningful than ironing out your problems for the playoff each of the past two seasons. It’s no different for the Celtics. Celtics fans, please, R-E-L-A-X.