Playoffs take a lot of luck. To even be considered a playoff team worthy of holding the trophy, there are dozens of factors in play, the most unforgiving of which is some dumb luck. You cannot win without it, just like you cannot control it. Just ask Celtics fans who have had to lower their standards with every breaking story and monumental injury (the gatekeeper of luck) from the creation of the Jayson Tatum era.
The track record of abysmal luck
’18 - We have an identity?
Revisionist NBA historians will tell you that Celtics fans’ hopes of winning began in ’17, the season they went to the Conference Finals. That’s horse crap. They came up against LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers and were outscored 602-502 in 5 games. They then got slapped up by Kevin Durant’s Warriors by a 608-574 point margin. So tell me again, why were the Celtics taken so seriously?
Instead, lousy luck followed good fortune as it always does. The Celtics cemented a new era with the drafting of Jayson Tatum and ran off like bandits with Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas. Not to mention the signing of Gordon Hayward. It started so blissfully as if it was the opening scene of a slasher film.
Hayward breaks his ankle in his first quarter in the green uniform and is sidelined a whole year. Kyrie developed an infection in his knee from surgery he had nearly three years ago - right in time to miss the entire playoffs. But despite the era-altering news, Tatum and Brown break expectations and drag the team to its second consecutive conference Finals. Again with Cleveland, but this time in 7 games after holding a 2-0 lead.
Worst moment: Hayward’s injury caused instability in minutes and toes to be stepped on, which became an irreversible problem.
19’ - Those are my minutes
Things were going to be so great.
Kyrie promised he would resign, creating an irreversible demand of expectation. The problem with such a merciless expectation is that anything less blows up as treachery. When Kyrie was asked if he would still resign and responded, “ask me July 1st”, the fans (and so the media) took that as him disobeying of orders… even if they were his orders
So despite starting 18-3, that promise cast over the team in only the worse of times.
Kyrie and Smart calling out the team publicly? Kyrie must not be resigning. Celtics call a closed-door meeting? It must mean Kyrie is rethinking his options. Marcus Morris and Brown fighting on the bench? Maybe the Celtics don’t want Kyrie as a leader. Kyrie spotted talking privately with Kevin Durant? Guess the leader has given up on them already.
After every increasing incident, the walls crumbled harder with that question on everyone’s minds. This was epitomized with Kyrie talking down his teammates to the media then giving up on his team mid-way through a Bucks series.
Worst moment: Kyrie’s promise pushed every crappy moment into a team-wide narrative. This could have been stopped in its tracks, but half of what the media depicted about Kyrie was true.
’20 Better but still with the injuries!
So much less turmoil this season but not perfect. Hayward and the newly acquired Kemba still never found their fit, with the same problem reemerging, finding the balance between selfless and selfish play. Also, despite coming second in opponent’s points per game, the C's needed a defensive center and a defensive point guard (this was exposed in the final Heat series). Finally, they drafted Matisse Thybulle who was moved to Philadelphia. Instead, the great Danny Ainge kept Romeo Langford at 14. So like I said, not perfect.
But the Celtics still managed to reach a Conference Finals where the unluckiest turn of events ever transpired. Hayward got injured in the first round of the playoffs and would only hobble around for 123 minutes of this series, putting up 42-16-11 across the combined four games he played.
Game 2: Dragic had 25 points in game 2 (won by 5). Might be worth mentioning he averaged 16 a game that season.
Game 3: The Celtics take the win by 11 points.
Game 4: The Heat win by 3 points where Kemba and Theis had a combined plus-minus of -24. Remember what I said earlier? Also, Tyler Herro catches flames with 37 points. (Herro continued to have a so-so Finals performance follows that up and an even more average sophomore season.)
Game 5: The struggling Celtics pull off a 13 point win. Hayward had 10 points in 30 minutes with a plus-minus of -2.
Game 6: The Heat take their first win without any last-second heroics, heading to the Finals after a 12-point victory. Adebayo finally realized that no one would stop him if he chose to take over the game, finishing with 32.
Worst moment: Gordon Hayward's injury right in time for playoffs takes the slice. If he’s in that series at 100%, that gives Celtics those 5 point edges to at least walk in the Finals.
’21 Kill me now
Coaching fatigue all year. Same coach for eight years. Kemba Walker way past being past his prime. He would literally get targeted by offenses on every single possession. Their fifth-leading scorer was a rookie, Payton Pritchard. Safe to say this year went by as quickly to Celtics fans as this description.
Worst moment: Jaylen Brown gets injured before playoffs, and they run into Nets. Not great. A lot on Tatum's shoulders.
No seismic jinxes or curses… yet
Every NBA team has bad luck stretches; Celtics fans had an era. To think that after this, the '21/’22 Celtics with new head coach Ime Udoka, seemed like they were going to "outshine" all the previously analyzed seasons. Things were looking very grim, and then 2022 happened.
They have a center that can defend the Embiids and Aytons of the league. They’ve always had the wings that can match anyone offensively. Now they have a guard who can defend the Pauls and Hardens with some newly improved playmaking. Depth is still an issue, but it's the best it's been since ’18. The Celtics just need to stay healthy, and their names should be on the shortlist of contenders in the East.
Luck works in mysterious ways. Boston fans - knock on wood.