Battling for a spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics laid an absolute egg against the Miami Heat Sunday afternoon.
Boston fell down 79-53 at the half with an absolutely disastrous defensive performance against its conference rivals. While the Celtics ended up making it a game in the second half, the end result was their fifth loss in the team’s past eight outings.
“I won’t get into the specifics, but our defense isn’t as good as it has been in the past,” Stevens said after the game. “We’re slow to react to the ball moving and we’re not quite on a string the way a small team needs to be.”
Missing star wing Jaylen Brown due to an ankle injury for a third consecutive game is not an excuse. Seeing big man Robert Williams leave at halftime due to a turf toe injury is not an excuse.
One season after making it to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics sit at 35-33 on the campaign and as the seventh seed in the conference. If the season were to end today, Boston would be forced into a play-in matchup with an ascending Charlotte Hornets team. This is not the way general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics envisioned things going in 2020-21. And it has Brad Stevens firmly on the hot seat.
Brad Stevens’ performance as the Boston Celtics head coach
Boasting a 353-279 record, Stevens has been one of the Celtics’ best coaches in modern history. But unlike his counterparts, the respected basketball mind has not led the storied franchise to a championship. In fact, Boston’s performance in the playoffs under Brad Stevens has left a lot to be desired.
- 2019-20: Lost Eastern Conference Finals
- 2018-19: Lost Eastern Conference Semifinals
- 2017-18: Lost Eastern Conference Finals
- 2016-17: Lost Eastern Conference Finals
- 2015-16: Lost Eastern Conference First Round
- 2014-15: Lost Eastern Conference First Round
Consecutive defeats at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals is one thing. But once King James moved on to Southern California following the 2017-18 season, most figured these Celtics were primed to take the east by storm.
Instead, we’ve seen major regression on the part of Brad Stevens’ club. If you’re not maintaining your status as a top-end contender or getting better, any other trajectory can’t be seen as good for your job security.
Brad Stevens could be Danny Ainge’s fall guy
Since joining the Celtics’ front office back in 2003, Ainge has been as somewhat of an institution in Boston. The former point guard took over what seemed to be a fledgling ship. Within a few years, he had the Celtics back on top as the NBA champions after acquiring stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
This has obviously given Ainge some sense of job security. With that, the executive has always been a proponent of looking to the future. In the past, this had included opting against offering up the likes of Jaylen Brown and/or Jayson Tatum in trades for Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis.
In retrospect, this has proven to be fruitful for the Celtics. Both Brown and Tatum have morphed into stars. There’s also no telling whether Leonard or Davis would have remained in Boston over the long-term.
With that said, it’s the other player personnel decisions Ainge has made in the recent past that should have him on the hot seat. No one will blame him for signing Gordon Hayward to a max contract ahead of the 2016-17 season. There was no predicting the serious injury Hayward would suffer one game into his Celtics tenure.
Even then, the signing of Kemba Walker during the 2019 offseason and recent acquisition of Evan Fournier ahead of the March NBA trade deadline can be questioned. Walker has been a shell of his former self in Boston. Meanwhile, Ainge opted to use the huge Gordon Hayward trade exception to bring in an impending free agent in Fournier who has not moved the needle too much. He could have waited until the offseason to add a true third star with Brown and Tatum. Alas, Ainge is always weary about giving up real assets to improve his roster.
These moves have proven to be failures. However, there’s no real reason to believe that they will have Ainge on the hot seat any time soon. Hence, Stevens potentially being his fall guy.
How can Brad Stevens save his job in Boston?
It’s not looking great. Even if Boston were to make it out of the play-in tournament as the seventh seed, it would be forced to go up against either the Brooklyn Nets or Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. To say that the Celtics have struggled against top-end Eastern Conference competition this season would be an understatement.
- Philadelphia 76ers: 0-3
- Brooklyn Nets: 0-3
- Milwaukee Bucks: 2-1
Obviously, the best matchup here for Boston would be Milwaukee. However, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that this iteration of the Celtics can compete with Giannis and Co.
That’s the crux of the issue. Short of Boston somehow turning things around and making a deep run in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Brad Stevens tenure will likely come to an end after eight otherwise successful seasons.