The Boston Celtics are one of the best teams in the entire NBA this season, playing to a 15-5 record through the first quarter of the 2023-24 campaign. That’s been the story for much of the past few seasons, as the Celtics made it all the way to the NBA Finals in 2022 and came within a game of doing so again this past season.
Unfortunately for Celtics fans, their extensive resume over the past few seasons comes with one glaring exception. For all their success and talent, this core still hasn’t managed to win an elusive championship ring.
In-Season Tournament Ends In Disappointment
That troubling trend continued last night, when the Indiana Pacers stunned the Celtics 122-112 in the quarterfinals of the NBA’s In-Season Tournament, preventing the Celtics’ players from stocking up on the various cash prizes available as teams continue to advance through the bracket. The Celtics built a solid 55-48 lead at halftime, but the Pacers took over in the third quarter, keeping their foot on the gas all the way to the finish line.
Losing out on six-figure prizes isn’t the worst thing in the world for a band of multimillionaires — and it’ll mean up to two more games the Celtics won’t have to play down the stretch, helping them stay healthy moving forward — but given the rave reviews that the In-Season Tournament has received from fans and players alike, it’s still a disappointing outcome. Here’s a look at what’s going on with the Celtics right now, and what they have on their plate next following their ouster from the IST.
Still the Cream of the Crop
Even with the unceremonious exit at the hands of a far less talented team, sportsbooks still love the Celtics. Right now they’re listed with the best odds of winning it all this season, at or around +375: be sure to use an ESPN Bet Massachusetts promo code if you want to bet on the Celtics, the NBA, or any other team or league so that you know you’re locking in the best possible odds of winning big.
It’s easy to give in to feelings of doom and gloom after seeing the Celtics fall short in a big game yet again — a loss that superstar forward Jayson Tatum said angered him — but I think it’s important to note that this Celtics team still hasn’t unlocked its full potential.
They’ve struggled with the injury bug to start the year, with big man Kristaps Porzingis missing several games because of a calf injury. In recent years, the Celtics have struggled when they couldn’t find a reliable scoring option behind Tatum and fellow wing Jaylen Brown. Porzingis is precisely the type of tertiary option they need to reach their ceiling, and once he’s healthy again he could go a long way toward helping the team excel.
At the start of the season, with Porzingis fully healthy, news outlets were practically tripping over each other trying to write think pieces about why this Celtics team could sport one of the best offenses in league history: that’s who they are, not the team that lost a single elimination game.
All About the Best of Seven
Sure, it’s difficult to see the Celtics lose a must-win game — to the extent that a December game played for pride can be considered a must-win — but it’s also important to keep in mind that the NBA’s postseason format favors the best teams.
We don’t see as many upsets in the NBA playoffs as we do in single-elimination games like the NFL postseason because it’s extremely difficult for an underdog to win four games without home court advantage: even if they can steal a game or two, managing to defy the odds over a span of two weeks with the cards stacked against you doesn’t come easily.
The In-Season Tournament is a novel idea, and with the sting of loss fresh in everyone’s mind it might take a little bit of time to chase that bitter taste away. The Celtics still have more than four months before the playoffs begin, and even the most toxic Twitter trolls will have moved on from a regular season loss by the time they roll around.
The team is still young — Tatum still won’t be eligible for a supermax extension until next season — and they’re brimming with talent, with an excellent head coach who knows how to unlock their best.
They may well have some growing pains to deal with, but as Brown and Tatum are only just entering their prime, the Celtics still have plenty of time to win in bunches. They’ll be fine.