On Wednesday night, the Boston Celtics’ 2019 season came to a close following a 91-116 blowout loss. A season that entered with the highest of hopes was underwhelming for most of the year, and obviously ended well-short of a championship or even a trip to the conference finals. The “super team” of Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and others seemed doomed by the aspect of “me ball” and egos. This team was supposed to be a championship contender and threaten the Warriors’ dynasty. The fact that Boston fell so short makes the Warriors’ run that much more impressive.
After falling 1 game shy of the NBA Finals in 2018, the Celtics got back Irving and Gordon Hayward prior to this season, and the season seemed to hinge on championship or bust. Last year’s heroes, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, would be forced to take a back seat to the returning stars. Head coach Brad Stevens had one of the most talented lineups from top-to-bottom, and players who could start other places would be coming off the bench in Boston. With LeBron James off to the Lakers, nothing seemed in the way of the Celtics and the Eastern Conference title.
Nothing but themselves, of course. The first disappointment was Hayward. His 2018 season ended less than 10 minutes into the first game, as he suffered a gruesome ankle injury and sat out the rest of the season. His return, as well as Irving’s, was much-awaited. However, after returning, Hayward for the most part struggled. Stevens continued to keep Hayward into the lineup, and the Celtics continued to be mediocre. Finally, Hayward, who was supposed to help Kyrie carry the team, was forced to come off the bench.
Then came the egos and troubles within the organization. Multiple times throughout the season, Irving seemed discontent with the situation in Boston, and even discontent with time in Boston. Combining Irving, who requested a trade away from LeBron James, with fiery personalities such as Brown, Marcus Smart, and Rozier, and you have trouble. And unfortunately for the Celtics, the in-house conflicts ruined what could have been a season to remember. Now, it appears to be a strong possibility that Irving will sign elsewhere this summer, Hayward’s long-term recovery is unknown, and the organization is simply left with lots of unanswered questions.
Enter the Warriors. In the past 4 seasons, they’ve racked up 4 NBA Finals appearances, 3 championships, and 2 Steph Curry MVPs. Over that stretch, Golden State is 265-63 (.808) in the regular season, including the historic 73-9 mark in 2016. This season, the Warriors have added 57 more wins, and are a win away from making the team’s fifth-straight Western Conference Finals. Like the Celtics, the Warriors have a star-studded lineup, with maybe even more starpower. The likes of Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green boast perhaps one of the most stacked lineups in the history of the game. The difference between Boston and Golden State is in team chemistry and attitude. Where Boston’s stars were often selfish or brash with teammates, Golden State is the opposite. Any given night, any of the four stars listed above can lead the team in points, assists, or rebounds.
Golden State is talented, and they know it. However, they know it in a good way. Anyone on the roster knows that if he’s having a bad shooting night, the guy beside him is plenty capable of taking over the game. Often times, that’s what happens. For parts of this year’s playoffs, all of the Warrior’s stars have found some sort of slump. For Boston, Kyrie Irving fell into a series-long slump. However, the Warriors have played together long enough and trust each other enough that they can keep winning, even when they’re not their best. As Irving’s shooting woes worsened, so did the Celtics’ opportunities to win. He continued to shoot, didn’t necessarily pick up many assists, and snapped back at the media when his shooting was questioned.
Brad Stevens struggled to maintain a positive locker room this season, and he struggled to keep his players’ egos and emotions under control. It’s not easy. It’s not his fault. But he struggled, and it cost his team a shot at a championship. The Warriors’ Steve Kerr though, has done masterful job and controlling the narrative of his squad. He currently has 2 MVPs on the roster, has 6 former All-Stars, and faces questions for his own team’s future. Yet he keeps on winning. The fact that Kerr has managed to calm tensions between his stars has allowed the team to keep moving forward. For Boston, the tension sunk the season.
The Boston Celtics are, on paper, probably the most talented team in the conference. If Irving moves on this summer, it’s still probably one of the most talented rosters in the East. 2019 was a disappointment for Boston, and it’s largely due to the internal discord the team faced over the past year. Injuries, such as Hayward’s are unfortunate and random. Others, such as players’ attitudes, leadership, and comments, are purely under team control. If the Celtics look to bring home their first title since 2008, then the Golden State Warriors must be the model.
*All Stats From ESPN.com and Basketball Reference