Celtics left with more questions than answers after rough week

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

Forsberg: So, about those Celtics questions we wanted answered... originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Eight days ago, on the ramp to the start of the Celtics-Nets first-round playoff series, we noted it might not be a pretty week for Boston. But it’s been even more dastardly than expected. And many of the questions we were seeking answers to have returned tepid responses at best.

We wondered how Jayson Tatum might perform alongside MVP-caliber competition. He dazzled at the start of Game 1 but has struggled against heightened attention then got poked in the eye and missed the end of Game 2. 

We wondered if the Celtics could be competitive against an elite opponent. Boston threw a haymaker at Brooklyn at the start of Game 1, leading by as much as 12 early, but hasn't been close ever since. That included trailing by as much as 33 in Game 2.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Revisiting the Kyrie experience in Boston, plus a chat with the Time Lord | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

We wondered how Kemba Walker would hold up in a well-spaced series and if the knee woes that limited him during the regular season would dissipate. Walker labored through Game 1 while battling rare foul trouble and was on the court as Joe Harris torched Boston at the start of Game 2. Walker is now questionable for Game 3 with a bruise on that balky left knee.

We wondered if Evan Fournier would shake off his career postseason struggles and make it easier for the Celtics to invest in his future this offseason. Fournier’s woes persisted in Game 1 but was better in Game 2 (5-for-9 on field goals, 4-for-5 on 3-pointers, 3 turnovers, 16 points). He showed some fire when he barked at Kevin Durant in the second half of Game 2, which is more than the rest of Boston’s roster can say.

We wondered about the reaction Kyrie Irving would receive during his first game back in Boston in front of fans. Irving shifted the discourse around the series after Game 2 when he said, “hopefully we can just keep it strictly basketball. There's no belligerence or racism going on -- subtle racism -- people yelling s*** from the crowd. But, even if it is, it's part of the nature of the game and we're just going to focus on what we can control.”

How fans react on Friday night is now even more in the spotlight, particularly after numerous incidents of poor fan behavior around the league, which led to the NBA sending an updated memo on fan code of conduct.

Maybe the Celtics can inject some life into this series in Game 3. Maybe Boston fans can release some pent-up frustration with Irving after the way Irving quit on the team in 2018-19 before partnering up with Kevin Durant in Brooklyn.

Forsberg: Getting to the root of Kyrie's history with C's fans

But the start of this series hasn’t made Celtics fans feel particularly good about the state of the team, particularly at the tail end of a frustrating season.

So we’ll stress again that, while there is certainly a murky path forward, there are still reasons to be optimistic. The presence of Tatum and Jaylen Brown, along with coach Brad Stevens -- all three having recently inked long-term extensions -- leaves the Celtics in a highly desirable position. There is most certainly work to be done to construct a better roster alongside that core, but that’s a heck of a base to work with.

Danny Ainge had better have his hard hat ready for the summer because it’s imperative the team maximize every second with the Tatum-Brown core and the circumstances of this season spoiled one of those few guaranteed years together.

All of which reminds us of our final question from that playoff preview last week: Which Celtics supporting cast members can nail their final auditions? While Boston’s overall lack of serviceable depth has hindered them throughout the 2020-21 season, there have still been bright spots.

Even beyond the Jays, there is young talent here that could very much be part of this core. For this week’s Forsberg Four from Celtics "Post Up," we spotlighted some encouraging numbers from four young players. Here’s a quartet that could be pivotal for whatever comes next for Boston -- even if one or two simply end up as trade bait as part of a larger roster overhaul. 

Payton Pritchard

For all the laments about drafting a four-year player, Pritchard was NBA-ready and positively impacted this team throughout the season. He shot 41.8 percent on all non-garbage time 3-pointers this year, per Cleaning the Glass data, and his combination of ball-handling and shooting skills makes him an ideal fit as a depth combo guard.

One thing we’d like to see evolve with Pritchard: Only 9 percent of his 3-point attempts were from the corner. He still shot 41 percent on all above-the-break attempts, an excellent number, but the more he gravitates to the corners, the more impactful he’ll be, particularly when playing alongside the core players who can create for him with the attention they draw.

Aaron Nesmith

The 14th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Nesmith distinguished himself with his hustle and grit late in the year and emerged as a key rotation presence given the team’s injury woes. But even as his 3-point shot blossomed, we liked his diversified offensive portfolio, including how he shot 57.9 percent on all 2-point shots.

Nesmith showed promise as a cutter and someone who could step into a mid-range shot and keep teams honest when they close out too hard to the 3-point line. Like Pritchard, his shooting skills should make him an ideal role player alongside this core, and he’s got an even higher ceiling based on what he’s shown beyond the 3-point shooting.

Robert Williams

Yes, Williams had a miserable, foul-filled Game 2 and that hammered home his need to find more consistency moving forward. But hobbling his way to nine blocks on nine healthy toes in Game 1 was a reminder that Williams might just be the most important player not named Jay on this roster.

Forget the blocks; with a 1.9 steal percentage this season (which was actually down from 2.6 last year), Williams has elite swiping ability and we think, with better health, he can truly inject himself into the All-Defense conversation because of his basketball IQ. 

Romeo Langford

Langford didn’t quite live up to our lofty expectations after returning from wrist surgery at the tail end of the season and faded from the rotation because his energy improbably dipped. He needs to remedy that moving forward and figure out how to tap into his obvious offensive potential. The defensive impact, though, is undeniable.

Langford limited guards to 29.2 percent shooting this season, with that position making just 14 of 48 shots against him. Opponents shot 38.9 percent overall, or 6.5 percent below their expected output, according to the NBA’s defensive tracking data. Like with Williams, the Celtics need Langford to stay heathy and afford him the opportunity to develop on the court after two frustrating, injury-filled seasons.