Karalis: Celtics have come a long way just to have a long way to go

The Boston Celtics have certainly taken the scenic route this season. And while Evan Fournier’s COVID-19 battle still leaves the team less than whole, we have seen enough of him and of them recently to start to finally get a sense of where this team sits in the East. 

It sure helps when we have more bodies healthy,” Brad Stevens said after the win over Portland. “I don’t think it’s brain surgery. I think we’ve got guys that have now played a little bit together, getting in a rhythm together. ... When (Marcus) Smart, Jaylen (Brown), Jayson (Tatum), and Kemba (Walker) are all out there, of course we’re going to look a little different.”

Their rhythm has pushed them into the fifth spot in the East. Their post-break offensive rating of 114.9 is more than two points better than their pre-break rating. They went from 27th in assists before the break to 11th after. Most metrics we can find will show the team starting to round the corner. 

“I think our players and coaches deserve a lot more credit for the atmosphere in which they're playing,” Danny Ainge said in his regular Thursday appearance on Toucher & Rich. “People don't want to give millionaires a break, but I think it's been a really hard year and a really challenging year. And I give those guys all credit.”

Now comes the tough part for the Celtics, and for the fans.

The Celtics were probably never going to be elite contenders this year. This team was always going to be in the “puncher’s chance” category of playoff teams; the guys who, against the right matchup and maybe with a little luck, can make a deep playoff run. But their play this season made a lot of people wonder if they were even going to be that much. 

Now, finally, this team has risen off the mat. What it hasn’t done, though, is proven anything other than they’re not as bad as they were before. We still don’t know how good they can be moving forward. 

This is where the view from the outside gets challenging. We’re not just content to watch basketball games, we need our opinions validated by them. And in the rush to run our victory laps (I’ve nearly pulled a hamstring running mine) the view of the team can swing too far the other way. 

It’s like looking at a stock chart and crowing about the 400 point rise, even though it followed a 400 point drop. They’ve fought this hard just to get back to even. They have been grinding away and finally that effort is showing, but all it’s gotten them a tenuous grip on a middle seed.

There is no doubt this team has improved a lot, but they’ve exhausted all of their wiggle room.