State of the C's: Best, worst of first half and key storylines to watch


This probably isn't quite what Brad Stevens and Ime Udoka had in mind.

Stevens and Udoka are officially midway through their first season as Boston Celtics president of basketball operations and head coach, respectively, and the early results aren't great: The Celtics sit 10th in the Eastern Conference at 20-21 and are four losses away from a shot at a top-five draft pick.

But the beauty is in the eye of the beholder with this Celtics team, which also is just four games out of the East's No. 5 seed and is led by two young All-Stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who seem to enjoy playing together despite "suggestions" they be split up.

The C's have been frustratingly inconsistent, but that's part of what makes them one of the NBA's most compelling teams: They have the potential to be much better than 20-21, and how they attempt to turn things around (Get more help for the Jays? Play the kids more?) is anyone's guess.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Assessing the Celtics at the midway point, plus a chat with Maine Celtics coach Jarell Christian | Listen & subscribe|Watch on YouTube

So, what should we make of Boston's first 41 games, and what can they tell us about the next 41? Here's a look at some first half highlights and lowlights and what Celtics fans should be watching for down the stretch.

Most encouraging storyline

Robert Williams looks like a franchise center. Williams always had the potential. Now he's finding the consistency. Time Lord has thrived with an increased workload this season, averaging a near double-double (9.9 points, 9.0 rebounds) and ranking third in the NBA in blocks (2.2 per game) while playing 29.3 minutes per night.

Williams consistently makes his presence felt on both ends of the floor and has also shined as a facilitator, averaging 3.1 assists per night over his last nine games.

Forsberg: Is Robert Williams worthy of All-Defense consideration?

The biggest concern with Williams remains his health -- he's already missed nine games this season -- but if he can stay on the floor, he looks like the perfect big man to pair with Tatum and Brown.

Honorable mentions: Josh Richardson thriving in a reserve role; Grant Williams the elite 3-point shooter

Player we want to see more from

Marcus SmartBoth Williams and Smart earned contract extensions this offseason, but Smart needs to do more to earn his. The longest-tenured Celtic is shooting 39.3% from the floor and 30.4% from three (both below last season's averages), and his assists per game (5.3) have dipped as well.

Smart remains an excellent defender, but he's been inconsistent as both a playmaker and scorer while alternating between point guard and shooting guard with Dennis Schroder in the fold.

While Udoka could help Smart by giving him more of a defined role (preferably at the point), the 27-year-old also needs to elevate his game to prove he's a "core" member worth keeping around.

Feel-good moment

Joe Johnson turning back the clock. One silver lining of COVID's toll on the NBA is that it allowed retired veterans like Johnson to produce awesome moments like the one we saw on Dec. 22.

Playing on a 10-day contract for the team that drafted him back in 2001, "Iso Joe" checked in near the end of a blowout win over the Cleveland Cavaliers and sent the Garden into a frenzy with his first Celtics bucket since 2002.

"Everybody said it when they came in the locker room: Joe is a bucket," Udoka said after the game.

"Let it all out" moment

Perkins and Forsberg react to Celtics' epic collapse vs. Knicks. Did we mention this team can be frustrating? After watching the Celtics blow a 25-point lead to New York, an incredulous Chris Forsberg and Kendrick Perkins let the team have it on "Postgame Live," with Perkins insisting the C's are "broken."

The Celtics have blown four leads of 15 points or more, but this Jan. 6 loss to New York takes the cake. Sometimes you just gotta vent after a game like this.

Best play

Jayson Tatum's dagger to force OT vs. Pacers. We'll go with a recent one here: Tatum's game-tying jumper with 1.8 seconds remaining saved the C's from a potentially ugly loss to Indiana and helped spark an OT victory.

Check out the best plays from the first half in the video player above.

Question that still needs answering

Who's the best fit for the Jays? Even if Tatum and Brown can in fact coexist, this current group hasn't exactly meshed with the two All-Stars.

Should Stevens search for a facilitating point guard who can keep the offense flowing in crunch time and perhaps move Schroder in the process? Or does this team need more shooters who can make defenses pay for loading up on Tatum and Brown? (The Celtics rank 25th in the NBA in 3-point percentage as of Wednesday.)

Forsberg: Celtics should be searching for pieces to help Jays thrive

We'll find out which path of improvement the Celtics choose (if any) over the next month as the Feb. 10 NBA trade deadline approaches.

Under-the-radar storyline to monitor

Will the kids see more playing time? When the Celtics are healthy, Romeo Langford, Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith aren't in Udoka's rotation. Should they be?

All three have been inconsistent this season -- in part due to their inconsistent playing time -- but Boston's veterans have logged heavy minutes, which could catch up to them down the stretch and force Udoka to give the "kids" more run.

Any one of this trio also could be a trade chip in a potential pre-deadline deal. Who in this group sticks around and who sees minutes late in the season will tell us a lot about how Stevens and Udoka view them as part of the Celtics' future.

Second-half outlook and projected finish

Final record: 43-39. Sixth in the East, lose to 76ers in first round. The Celtics are better than their current record indicates. But barring a drastic change, they don't look like serious players in the East.

Udoka's club will play some encouraging basketball down the stretch and take a couple games off Philadelphia to give their fans some hope. But their inconsistency comes back to bite them in a first-round exit to Joel Embiid and Co.

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