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What Can Derail the Celtics? A Guide to Boston’s Barriers

The Boston Celtics are running away with the best record in the NBA and will have homecourt advantage as long as they’re alive in the playoffs, no small item for a team that’s 32-3 in its own arena. Anything less than a title will be a disappointment for this crew and its fanbase.

This NBA basketball update takes a look at three factors that could potentially hinder Boston’s push for another banner.

What Can Derail the Celtics? A Guide to Boston’s Barriers
Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics | Adam Glanzman/Getty Images/AFP

 

The Celtics’ Unsolvable Fourth Quarter Puzzle

With 11:29 left in the fourth quarter Wednesday night vs Giannis-less Milwaukee, Payton Pritchard buried a 3-pointer to give the Celtics a 21-point lead. Pritchard had played inspired ball all night – at one point ripping a rebound from big man Brook Lopez – and the place was bananas for what he and his teammates were doing to second-place Milwaukee.

The Bucks would proceed to score the game’s next 11 points and soon thereafter put together a 10-0 run. By the time Bobby Portis nailed a triple with just under three minutes to go, it was a three-point game. The roars for Pritchard and company mere minutes earlier had taken the form of groans and seat squirming as a packed shack on Causeway Street wondered if they’d see another collapse.

Boston doesn’t lose often. When it does, and when it has in the playoffs in recent years, the occasional fourth-quarter swoon has been the culprit. This team blew a 22-point advantage in a stunning setback at Cleveland earlier this month and Wednesday’s clash with the Bucks was nearly a repeat…but at home.

The Celtics still lead the NBA in fourth-quarter point differential (plus-1.6), but that’s more a product of their overall dominance. There have been several runaway routs against Detroit and Washington that have beefed up that number. But consider that they outscore opponents by 4.9 in the first, 3.2 in the second, and 1.8 in the third.

Clearly, over the course of what is now a big enough sample, there’s some leveling of the playing field as time goes by. For another example, here’s a look at their field-goal percentages by quarter: 50.3 … 50.8 … 47.1 … 45.7.

Many teams see those percentages dip as games get tighter, but that’s a pretty steep drop on Boston’s end. It had some rough stretch runs against Miami in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals (who can forget an 18-point fourth quarter in Game 7) and did the same against Golden State in the 2022 Finals.

Keep this in mind as a potential hazard for the Celtics and a possible pitfall for those of you betting online at the sportsbook.

 

Stay Hungry: Can the Celtics Avoid a Late-Season Lull?

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of head coach Joe Mazzulla’s job going forward will be to keep his team on point as they play out the string. The Celtics will likely clinch the best overall record with several games to play and they could have the East sewn up early next week.

They look every bit like a motivated bunch that’s hell-bent on that NBA crown, but will they be impacted by a lull in intensity over the final few weeks? All other contenders figure to be fighting tooth and nail for particular playoff spots; nothing is certain in the rest of the East and there are 11 teams in the West all with something to gain in the standings with a strong finish.

Throw in the fact that the Celtics play a bunch of patsies in the final few weeks. Charlotte pops up twice and Portland, Washington, and Detroit all make an appearance. With almost nothing to play for in the standings for both sides, those are the kinds of games where one can develop some bad habits.

It’s up to Mazzulla and his staff to not let that happen.

Four games into the season the Celtics were 4-0, coming off a 51-point rout of the Pacers at home. Newcomer Jrue Holiday was asked about the vibe and uttered these words: “I think it’s more about not being bored. It’s not getting complacent and locking into every game, every opponent.”

They’ve done well to avoid that issue so far. Will it become a challenge as the playoffs approach?

 

The Injury Bug’s Bite: How Health Separated the Celtics From the Walking Wounded

Boston has been able to run away from the rest of the East in part because it’s been a very healthy season for Mazzulla’s crew. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday and Derrick White have each made at least 61 starts (the team has played 68), and Kristaps Porzingis and Al Horford have largely shared the rest.

Meanwhile, contenders such as Philadelphia, New York, Cleveland, and Miami have had a very different experience. They’ve had to absorb several long layoffs from several key players, some of whom remain sidelined.

The biggest name, of course, is Joel Embiid, the reigning MVP. He started to have knee problems around Christmas when the Sixers were three games back. They were seven behind by the time he hit the shelf permanently in late January.

Philadelphia bolstered its roster at the trade deadline and through the buyout market as if it was all in, and it expects Embiid back in about three weeks. Who knows whether he’ll be effective right away and whether all the pieces will mesh, but this was a 29-13 team at one point.

The same goes for the Knicks, who seem to never lose when OG Anunoby is in the lineup. He was back from elbow issues but has recently had some soreness there, so they’ll be cautious with him. Julius Randle’s situation remains murky. These are big ifs that are getting bigger with each delay, but if those two get healthy for the postseason there’s a chance this team becomes a force again. Remember, the Knicks entered February on a long winning streak and just five games back of Boston.

Follow the NBA news and rumors pages for updates on these injuries.

 

 

Questions Of The Day

What’s on the immediate horizon for the Boston Celtics?


The Celtics begin a six-game road trip at Detroit on Friday, March 22.

Are any of the NBA teams mentioned here involved in some action on Mach 21?


See who the Knicks trot out there in a matchup in Denver. We know Randle won’t be there and Anunoby has been ruled out as well. Factor this in with your NBA picks.

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