A few months ago I wrote a blog talking about which player in the NBA would benefit most from winning a ring in the bubble
and my answer to that question was Harden/Westbrook. But as I sit here staring at the clock until the first scrimmage gets underway today, my brain started to wander. I started thinking about the Celts scrimmage on Friday which then led my brain to wonder of everyone on this team, which Celtic has the most pressure to perform this postseason? According to pundits and Vegas, this team is a legit title contender. The last time they entered a postseason as a "contender" they were promptly eliminated in about 2 seconds. Massive underachievement by everyone involved, not just Kyrie. The Jays, Horford, Smart, Hayward, Brad, everyone.
Well this year, the stench of last season's team is gone. Guys took leaps, Hayward is healthy, and Kemba was able to replace Kyrie's production with none of the drama. Even Brad looked better! But as we know, the step the Celts are currently at is the hardest part of a rebuild. Getting over the hump and making the Finals/potentially winning it is ultimately what defines if a rebuild was successful. Not losing in the second round. So as we prepare for what is hopefully a deep playoff run, here's how I view the pressure on some key guys
We may as well start with Tatum seeing as how he's rather important to what this team does. The pressure on Tatum is unique for a couple reasons. Right before the hiatus he was playing at a level which suggested he was starting to open the door to eventually become a top 10 player. He's not there yet, but a huge playoff run would certainly make that more of a reality. I would say he has assumed the role of "#1 option on a title team", and now is his time to prove that he can actually carry a playoff team under that role. That's something that ultimately can change your entire franchise if Tatum ends up being "the guy". The thing is, we can't pretend like his MIL series didn't happen last year. He was very much not "the guy".
But there's also the added pressure from the outside world as more and more videos come out with him golfing every day and all that shit about not having a hoop to start quarantine. I don't give a shit about that, but people will.
All the quotes from Kemba are that his knee is fine. I'll believe it when I see it frankly because nobody in this franchise ever tells the truth when it comes to injuries. So when I think about the pressure on Kemba, a lot of things come into play. First and foremost, he has to be better than Kyrie was and I'd say even Isaiah too. He doesn't exactly have the longest playoff history, and certainly not in a situation where he's the starting point guard for a contender. How will he handle teams that trap him? How will he handle being targeted on the defensive end? We've seen what this team looks like when their score first point guard struggles in a playoff series whether it was Isaiah vs ATL or Kyrie vs MIL.
As one of the max slots on this team and one of its leaders, there is a ton of pressure for Kemba to come through on the biggest stage.
No matter what Hayward did this season, he still caught shit. It made no sense to me considering he was essentially Utah Hayward, which is what we all wanted when he first signed. But after being a legit non factor in last year's playoffs, he really doesn't have the injury excuse this time around. He had a great year, is 100% healthy, and is extremely important to the Celtics playoff ceiling. It's also a big postseason for his future contract. If he once again struggles, he's 100% opting into that $31M. If he plays well, maybe the Celts are willing to entertain some sort of extension.
We've waited for 3 seasons to see what a healthy and confident Hayward looks like in a postseason run. You could argue he's their most important X factor, so with that comes a decent amount of pressure.
When the Celts are underdogs Brad seems to always find a way to win. It's remarkable. But let's face it, he has a 27-29 postseason record. You want to give him a pass for the 2014 team that won 40 games and got swept by the 1 seed Cavs? Fine. But the next season he won 48 games and was out in 6 in the first round. In Isaiah's breakout year they had a deep run, and the same was true during that electric 2018 season. But again, they were mostly underdogs.
Once this team had the most talent of his coaching tenure, they underachieved. He couldn't figure out how to make it work at any point last year. Which brings us to this season. Did you know this year was the highest winning % of his tenure? This is by far his best team from a talent and chemistry perspective. He needs to prove he can show up and deliver when his team is no longer considered an underdog or one with not a lot of talent. There's not only pressure on him to figure things out basketball wise, but now with this new bubble environment it's on him to keep everyone focused and navigate this weird situation. Mental focus is just as important as anything else, and for me that comes from the coach. Making sure your team is locked in.
I can understand maybe leaning towards someone like Jayson Tatum given his status in the league, but I'm going a different direction. He's what, 22? He'll be fine. That's why for me, the answer is clearly Brad Stevens. He has to prove that last year was an exception not the rule because this team has the talent to get over the hump. Brad's coaching is supposed to be that little bit extra that helps them break through. How he handle adjustments, rotations, calling timeouts, it's all extremely important. He's widely considered one of the best coaches in the league, well I'm going to need him to show me why.