The Celtics, who are 18-17, are hoping to build on their newfound momentum. Not so long ago — last week, to be specific — fans were getting noticeably grouchy about the team’s lack of ball movement, about Jayson Tatum’s seeming insistence on creating scoring opportunities for himself off the dribble (“hero ball,” in the parlance of social media), and about a general absence of game-to-game cohesion.
Some of those problems can be explained away. Kemba Walker, the Celtics’ starting point guard, missed the first 11 games of the season while recovering from knee surgery, and he has been sitting out the second game of back-to-backs. (The Celtics are 1-4 in those games.) Tatum missed five games in January with the coronavirus, and he has acknowledged feeling winded at times since his return. Marcus Smart, the team’s do-everything, defense-minded wing, has been sidelined since he tore a calf muscle on Jan. 30.
Add it all up, and the Celtics have started 13 players through 35 games, a comprehensive list that includes Tremont Waters and Carsen Edwards. (Last season, which was also — what’s the word? — disjointed, Boston started a total of 14 players.) On Sunday, when the Celtics wound up stealing a win against the Washington Wizards, Javonte Green, a 27-year-old guard who spent the first few years of his professional career hopscotching among leagues in Spain, Italy and Germany after going undrafted out of Radford, started in place of Jaylen Brown, who missed the game with knee soreness.
Nothing about their patchwork roster makes the Celtics unique. Entering Wednesday, seven teams in the Eastern Conference were within three games of .500, including the Miami Heat, who have scuffled along since reaching the N.B.A. finals last season, and the Knicks, whose fans are celebrating their relative resurgence as if it were 1973 all over again. The point being: Not all mediocre records are the same.
Consider, too, the Wizards, who are suddenly one of the most dangerous 13-20 teams around. Led by Bradley Beal, an All-Star starter and the league’s leading scorer, they had won seven of their last eight games before losing to the Celtics, having found a bit of rhythm after a nearly two-week pause in their season that was caused by a coronavirus outbreak. Nothing about this season is ordinary, and no team is immune from its challenges.