Last June, the dreaded Boston Celtics held a four-point lead, 94-90, at the Gahden up in Bean Town, and were just 5:18 seconds away from taking a 3-1 series lead over Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Sixers mini-villain Al Horford was playing out of his mind, playing to the home crowd, giving knowing glances, oozing pure championship level confidence. The swirling sea of green could smell it, as Sixers Nation likely gagged up our hummus and carrot snacks. (James Harden said he’s being more mindful of his diet, so yeah we’ve joined him in the effort).
But you know how it went. Steph Curry went ballistic in Boston, then he put the leprechaun unit to sleep down by The Bay. And then it was onto the offseason, crisis temporarily averted for those who never want to see Boston win a damn thing.
But the offseason started gangbusters for Brad Stevens and co. They landed Malcolm Brogdon without having to part with any key members of their Finals rotation. Not even Grant Williams?! Come on! They signed Danilo Gallinari, who isn’t an All-Star but he did hurt the Sixers in that Atlanta series a bit.
The Miami Heat lost P.J. Tucker, the Nets found themselves mired in turmoil, yes the East got stronger, but oddsmakers had Boston comfortably on top. And what’s more, they were even front runners at one point to trade for Kevin Durant, which would have only added to their perceived edge spanning two more crucial years of Joel Embiid’s prime.
But oh those swirling winds.
We’d learn that Danilo had suffered a torn meniscus, while somehow the med staff missed the fact that the Italian Rooster, who ranks 304th on the all time scoring list, and 49th on triples made, actually tore his ACL. Boston gets a Disabled Player Exception, but they’ll be hard pressed to make up for that talent-per-dollar value Gallo represented pre-injury.
As noted the Celtics were at one point favored to land Kevin Durant, who sent shockwaves across the NBA requesting a trade from Brooklyn. But that status wasn’t free. They reportedly offered Jaylen Brown, Derrick White, and a pick, were quickly rebuffed, and never appeared to make a bigger offer. That storyline died down over time, but what impact might it have had on their young All-Star in Brown, who now has every right to feel a certain way, despite KD’s all-time status.
The best NBA players look for any possible slight as fuel to propel them further, and sometimes that comes from your own squad. You didn’t believe in me right after I outplayed KD in a sweep?
Robert Williams is now expected to miss 8-to-12 weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery of the left knee. This is the same knee that required surgery last season, and perhaps tipped the Defensive Player of the Year from one of Rudy Gobert or Bam Adebayo to TimeLord’s teammate Marcus Smart.
Smart was, of course, worthy of the honor, but it appeared per oddsmakers that he and Williams would cannibalize each other’s votes before Williams got hurt. Then Smart leaped in front of the two runaway favorites since Ime Udoka had the Celtics playing on a championship, if not all-time, level defensively.
Oh right, speaking of Boston’s suspended head coach Udoka, a former Sixers assistant. There’s that.
In the words of Jeff Clark, who runs our sister Celtics Blog:
“As for Udoka, it appears that he’s made some pretty big mistakes, which he has issued a public apology for. It seems like most of the news we’ve heard about this has come from the Celtics side of things, and it is worth noting that we have yet to hear anything of detail from Udoka’s side. However, the reports don’t seem great. The Celtics reportedly gave him several warnings and ultimately felt compelled to suspend him for a full season. A team with title hopes does not take such actions lightly. That’s not to say that I fully trust that the team made all the right moves here either. We just don’t know enough about the situation to understand who acted right, wrong, or just the best they could with the cards they were dealt.”
I can’t encourage you enough to read Clark’s full write up that offers a vital message of patience and awareness that we don’t know everything yet and there is a human side to this story that is paramount and necessitates our respect. Even though we’re all super curious what the heck happened.
Matt Barnes on the situation with ime. He was told what happened and it sounds like it’s pretty bad. pic.twitter.com/PnMZzR2WsW— Ant ☘️ (@GangCeltics) September 23, 2022
So where do things stand now? The Celtics, after announcing that their head coach will miss the entirety of the upcoming season and be replaced by Assistant Joe Mazzulla, are still favorites to win the championship per Draft Kings (+550).
But maybe it’ll take bettors a few days to recalibrate their expectations. On a recent pod, Sean Kennedy and I discussed if there could be a “plug-and-play” thing like we have seen in Golden State over the years when Steve Kerr misses time with back ailments. Could an assistant step in and run a similar system to what worked so well in 2022? Or do you need the maturity of Steph Curry and co. for all that to work?
Or will there be a bigger, full season, perhaps unquantifiable element to a scandal such as this one? It can’t help the vibes to field questions about it throughout the season. It’s hard to know how much these vibes will limit the Celtics. But it’s only a short time since things were looking oh so rosy for them.
Sixers fans will no doubt stay glued to this situation.