On Nov. 21, the New York Knicks faced off against the Boston Celtics in what was expected to be an easy route for the green team, but it turned out be their worst loss of the season.
The Celtics not only lost to their longtime division rivals, but were beaten with almost relative ease. New York. who sported a 4-14 record, had a double-digit lead for almost the entire game. While the Celtics may have cut the lead all the way down to three in the closing minutes, the Knicks held steady to get the win.
The Celtics should have been disappointed in their performance. They were booed by their fans, they fell down by as many as 26 points and they lost to a team that was well below .500. The hardest pill to swallow was that the Knicks reminded Brad Stevens and company where they came from.
As it stands, the Knicks currently are not a good team, as they sit at 7-14 and don’t expect franchise unicorn Kristaps Porzingis back for quite some time. But what separates them from the league’s worst teams is their farm system of gritty young players that sets an edge.
Excluding their pool of rookies and sophomores such as Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, and Allonzo Trier, the Knicks have a tenacious and somewhat youthful movement in Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh. None of those four are future stars, but with their NBA careers hanging by a thread, they give it their all every night.
When you factor in solid veterans like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter, you’ll see that the Knicks have formed a winning culture even with their limited ceiling. They may not boast the most talent, but they make you earn the victory against them.
Does that sound familiar? It should because that’s what the Celtics once prided themselves on over the past five years under Brad Stevens.
Stevens has built his reputation as one of the league’s best coaches on his teams’ abilities to exceed expectations due to their excellent chemistry outweighing their average pool of talent. So it only made sense that the Celtics would be wrecking the league after coming within one win of going to The Finals and getting Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back.
To almost everyone’s astonishment, the Celtics have been puzzlingly mediocre, as they currently place sixth in the Eastern Conference at 10-10.
Their lackluster start hasn’t come primarily from their inconsistency. It’s mostly because of their habit of falling behind big. Time and time again, the Celtics have found themselves down by double-digits. Sometimes they have worked their way back from them, but most of the time it’s been too big to overcome.
Even the best teams fall badly behind every once in a while, but the Celtics have repeatedly done it in only 20 games this season. In all fairness, they have some valid excuses.
Working Hayward back was going to take a while given the severity of his injury last season. Juggling the overabundance of talent was going to be quite the riddle to solve. Their biggest problem among everything else so far has been their identity crisis.
The Celtics have thrived in the past because the little expectation put on them fueled them to prove the doubters wrong. Now that the bar set for them is at potentially going to The Finals or even winning the championship, they no longer play with the same edge. As evidenced by the team finding itself down by a fair amount on multiple occasions, Boston is guilty of complacency.
Because of that, even their guys are aware the competition doesn’t take them as seriously.
Marcus Smart on what’s ailing the Celtics:
“Lack of fear. Like, we don’t impose our fear and will on other teams. Last year, teams when they came in and played the Celtics, they knew they were in for a fight. This year, teams can’t wait to play us. And that’s a problem.”
— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) November 25, 2018
The experts haven’t been wrong about the Celtics’ weaponry. Even at 10-10, they have some impressive wins on the record. They’ve hung with their top competitors in the East. They’ve beaten Toronto, Milwaukee, Philadelphia albeit pre-Jimmy Butler, Detroit (twice) and were a Victor Oladipo buzzer beater from defeating Indiana. All of these teams are currently ahead of Boston.
The Celtics definitely have what it takes. They just have yet to find their stride, which makes them the NBA’s most disappointing team. They have some competition for that label, but their case is the strongest.
Utah’s slow start can be attributed to them having the toughest schedule in the league so far. Houston’s can be attributed to losing both player and coaching personnel who played a big role in last season’s success. Washington was already a sinking ship, only things have gotten worse this season. In Boston’s case, their struggles are the least expected of the four.
Alas, the Celtics are more than familiar with early season struggles. With the exception of last year’s blazing start, the Celtics under Stevens have always come out of the gate a little flat because he likes to mix and match.
Because of that, it’s definitely not too late for the Celtics, just like it’s not too late for the NBA’s most disappointing player: Markelle Fultz.
This won’t be about Fultz’s injury issues, because that’s gone into enough detail already that it’s virtually impossible to say anything new. Instead, let’s focus on the latest story on the former No. 1 pick.
In the latest and what looks to be the final chapter of Fultz’s time as a 76er, he has yet again been deemed out with a shoulder injury along with a newly-reported wrist injury. This latest report appears to be the nail in the coffin for him in Philly, as it now appears that Fultz wants a fresh start, and Philly is ready to move on from him.
When and if he gets traded, it’s fair to say that Fultz, while definitely not being the first, is the biggest failure to come from “The Process.” The Sixers traded a potential superstar in Jayson Tatum and a possible lottery pick from the Kings to get Fultz. The returns they’ve gotten since acquiring his draft rights have been nothing short of disastrous.
In 33 games as a Sixer, Fultz has averaged 7.7 points, 3.4 assists and has shot 41.4 percent from the field including 26.7 percent from distance. According to NBA.com, the Sixers’ offensive rating has been -8.5 with Fultz on the court this season. That’s pretty bad for someone who had superstar expectations coming out of the draft just a year-and-a-half ago.
That’s not to say the Sixers haven’t tried to fit him in. They started Fultz for the first 15 games hoping he could get going with the other starters, but he couldn’t. Once the team traded for Butler, it was clear that they had run out of patience with Fultz.
In his defense, Fultz was thrown into a situation that may have never been meant for him coming into the NBA. He was expected to be the last piece for a team that had thrown away the last four seasons in hopes of accumulating young talent to start up a new dynasty. Also, the team planned to flip the switch immediately after drafting him.
It was also going to be hard for Markelle to thrive since he was a point guard playing with another point guard, Ben Simmons, who is the most effective with the ball in his hands. Making that work is difficult especially with Fultz’s shooting woes. Though nobody blames Philadelphia for going all in on Fultz, this may have been a doomed experiment from the start.
Most first overall picks are put on bad teams that slowly rebuild over time. Fultz, by contrast, was added to a team in hopes of making serious noise the second he stepped on the floor. The Sixers were ready for the big time. Fultz was not.
Perhaps what Fultz needs is to re-start his career with a team that has minimal expectations. The best thing for his progress may be time, which he certainly doesn’t have with the Sixers in the place that they are in. He may still be the prospect everybody believed he was. That just may not happen while he’s in Philadelphia.
That’s not to say that all that has happened is Philadelphia’s fault, or Fultz’s for that matter. Neither side saw this panning out as badly as it did. It all came down to incompatibility. That doesn’t excuse Fultz from being a colossal disappointment though.
As evidenced by both the Celtics and Fultz, having such high expectations can prove to be trouble. It can get to both teams and players alike. At the end of the day, we have to remember that everyone in the NBA is still human.
Those ginormous expectations can be fulfilled.
It just may not be as quick as or in the way that we hope they will.