Why Celtics Won't Make a Deep Run in 2021 NBA Playoffs

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 29, 2021

Why Celtics Won't Make a Deep Run in 2021 NBA Playoffs

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    It's tempting to buy into the 2020-21 Boston Celtics.

    Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are certified NBA stars, and it wasn't long ago that Kemba Walker was held in the same regard. Coach Brad Stevens is one of the top tacticians in the industry, and he booked three conference finals trips in just the past four seasons.

    But the Shamrocks have lagged behind expectations throughout this campaign, and the problems have lingered long enough to assume they aren't going away. This team won't be enjoying an extended playoff stay this time around for the following three reasons.

Consistently Inconsistent

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Every time you want to believe in this bunch, something gets in the way.

    Sometimes, injuries are to blame, but even at full strength this roster hasn't inspired much confidence. They've had Tatum, Brown and Walker together in 29 games this season. They're just 16-13 in those contests, and their shared net rating across 586 minutes (plus-1.0) is worse than the team's as a whole (plus-1.4, 12th overall).

    All too often, this team plays to its competition level. It can beat anyone, as shown by its solid 15-18 mark against .500 or better opponents. But it can lose to anyone too. The Celtics are just 17-12 against clubs with losing records. Those 12 losses match the Washington Wizards for the most among all clubs seeded 10th or better in either conference.

    "I think we're capable," Stevens told reporters. "But ... there's a big difference between being consistent and being capable. Consistent wins out at the end of the day."

Not Elite at Either End

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    All contenders have a standout skill. Some might have more than one, but there isn't a heavyweight club without an identifiable super-strength, like the Brooklyn Nets' fiery offense or the Los Angeles Lakers' stonewall defense.

    What's the go-to weapon for this group?

    The offense isn't special, and neither is the defense. In fact, both units rank 12th in efficiency, which is fine, but fine won't get you far in a playoff field featuring juggernauts like the Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks.

    You might think isolation attacking is a signature strength, because a lot of possessions wind up with one-on-one tussles, but the Celtics are the sixth-least efficient offense on isolations, which makes you wonder why they run more of them than all but eight other teams.

Supporting Cast Questions

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    The Celtics have at least a rough idea of what to expect from their top four: Tatum, Brown, Walker and Marcus Smart. There's some fluctuation from one night to the next, but Boston at least can set general expectations for this group.

    Moving past that quartet is where things get really dicey really quickly.

    You could argue the next most reliable contributor is Payton Pritchard, a rookie who was drafted 26th overall. You could argue for Robert Williams III, who came into this campaign without a consistent role and just joined the starting group in late March. You could even argue for Evan Fournier, provided you look past what he has done—or, more accurately, hasn't done—during his brief time in Boston and instead focus on the player he was before the exchange.

    There's a lot of guesswork with this supporting cast, which becomes especially problematic when the top four don't reach their normal production levels. The Celtics will inevitably need some unexpected sparks to play above their seed line in the playoffs, and it's tough to tell where those could come from.

                  

    Statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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