Celtics Year in Review: Top highlights and storylines from the wild 12 months originally appeared on NBC SportsBoston
On January 6, 2022, the Boston Celtics fell 108-105 to the New York Knicks to drop to 18-21 on the season and 11th in the Eastern Conference approaching the halfway point of its season.
They’ve gone 72-32 since then.
The Celtics’ 2022 calendar year was marked by one of the most impressive 180s in recent NBA history. It began with Boston morphing into a juggernaut down the stretch of the 2021-22 season, peaked with the team reaching its first NBA Finals in 12 years and is closing with the C’s poised for another deep playoff run in 2023.
But one sentence doesn’t do the last 12 months justice. From a flurry of February trade deadline deals to the offseason acquisitions of Malcolm Brogdon and Daniel Gallinari; from Gallinari’s injury to Ime Udoka’s suspension and Joe Mazzulla’s subsequent takeovers; this year has been shock-full of storylines.
Let’s reflect on the year that was by revisiting the top Celtics storylines of 2022.
Part I: Rock bottom
How much has changed in the past 12 months? Consider these takes from our esteemed Celtics analysts (and one reader) in January:
Kendrick Perkins, Jan. 6: “The Celtics are broken right now.”
Chris Forsberg, Jan. 7: “The Celtics can stick to their middling course, maybe win a play-in game, and settle for a late-teen draft pick that holds limited value in a quest to infuse needed talent. Or (Brad) Stevens can consider a lottery ticket. “
Reader in Chris Forsberg’s Celtics Mailbag, Jan. 5: “Chris, why aren’t we talking about trading Tatum? He’s not a 1 but is your most valuable asset and can help restock the cupboard for the future.”
Part II: Signs of life and an active trade deadline
… The tide started to turn. With their starting five finally intact after a rash of early-season injuries, the Celtics won 13 of their next 17 games before the Feb. 10 trade deadline, prompting president of basketball operations Brad Stevens to pull the trigger on three deals.
Here’s a recap of those moves followed by our reactions at the time:
Chris Forsberg on the Derrick White trade, Feb. 10: “Outside of the (James) Harden and (Ben) Simmons swap, I felt like Derrick White was one of the best players that was out there. The Celtics got the best player in all their dealings.”
Brian Scalabrine on the Daniel Theis trade, Feb. 10: “I don’t understand how we got this deal done. In my world with the Celtics getting Daniel Theis for Schroder and getting off of the other salary: grand slam. … You didn’t give up any assets to get Schroder, but then you come away with Daniel Theis for that. That’s huge for them.”
Stevens added the following day that Boston had the potential to be “special” based on its upside defensively. He was onto something.
Part III: Surge to the postseason
The Celtics went a remarkable 20-6 after the trade deadline and beat the Memphis Grizzlies in their regular-season finale to edge the Milwaukee Bucks for the No. 2 seed in the East.
The Bucks rested their starters for Game 82, content to earn the No. 3 three seed and duck the No. 7 seed Brooklyn Nets in the first round. The Celtics’ message: Bring on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Ime Udoka on Boston’s decision to go for the No. 2 seed, April 27: “We’re a basketball team, not a track team. We’re not running from people.”
Part IV: Thrilling run to NBA Finals
We could devote hours to each of the Celtics’ four 2022 playoff series. Instead, we attempted to single out the best on-court moment and the best quote from a player, coach or analyst from each series.
Round 1 vs. Brooklyn Nets (4-0 Celtics)
Best on court moment: Tatum’s buzzer-beating layup in Game 1. Were you expecting any other answers?
Best odds: Kendrick Perkins after the Celtics won Game 3 to go up 3-0. “The Celtics have snatched the Nets’ soul. They’re punking them, they punked KD, they done made Kevin Durant quit.”
Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. Milwaukee Bucks (4-3 Celtics)
Best on court moment: Tatum’s 46 points on the road in Game 6 to force a Game 7. Honorable mentions go to At Horford’s 30-point outburst in Game 4 (and the node that started it all) and Grant Williams’ clutch 27 points in Game 7. But dropping 46 points on the road in a win-or-go-home situation is next-level stuff.
Best odds: Al Horford on Giannis Antetokounmpo staring him down after a dunk in Game 4. “I don’t know what he said to me, but the way he was looking at me and the way he was going about it really didn’t sit well with me.
“At that point, I think something switched with me in the game.”
Eastern Conference Finals vs. Miami Heat (4-3 Celtics)
Best on court moment: Brown’s massive dunk on Bam Adebayo in Celtics’ Game 5 win. Points were hard to come by in this grind-it-out series, but Brown put the Celtics on his back late in Game 5, punctuating the victory with this massive slam that brought Boston’s bench to its feet — and made FTX Arena very quiet .
Best odds: Tatum after the Celtics’ Game 7 win. “Saying we need to split the group up, get rid of somebody, or me and JB can’t play together… that fueled us.”
NBA Finals vs. Golden State Warriors (4-3 Warriors)
Best on court moment: Curry’s 43 points in Warriors’ Game 4 win. We know, we know. But credit where it’s due: Curry’s effort was one of the best in NBA Finals history and helped turn the series back in Golden State’s favor after Boston went up 2-1. We’ll spare you the video highlights.
Perkins: “They was on their ass like diapers on a baby.”
Part V: Offseason optimism
While the players insisted the Finals loss haunted them, the Celtics entered the 2022 offseason as a very good team that only got better when Stevens signed Gallinari and acquired Brogdon from the Pacers in a deal that sent Aaron Nesmith, Daniel Theis, Nik Stauskas, Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan and a 2023 first-round pick at Indiana.
Many viewed Gallinari and Brogdon as the missing pieces Boston needed to get over the hump.
Eddie House on the Gallinari and Brogdon acquisitions, July 1: “I think that’s what lacked in these playoffs. We had depth, but they just didn’t show up.
“I think adding these pieces, you have an opportunity for these guys to show up. And these are vets. That’s the difference. These are vets that we’re going to be depending on coming off the bench as opposed to some real young players that we had last year.”
Part VI: Dark clouds gather
Bad news came in bunches late in the Celtics’ offseason.
On Sept. 2, the team announced that Gallinari had torn his ACL playing for his native Italy in a FIBA World Cup qualifying game. Then came the stunner: On Sept. 22, the Celtics suspended Udoka for a full year due to violations of team policies.
The very next day — the same day the team held a press conference addressing Udoka’s suspension and confirming the 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla as Boston’s interim head coach — the C’s revealed Robert Williams would be sidelined eight to 12 weeks while recovering from knee surgery.
Those developments significantly impacted team morale, although Stevens expressed his full confidence in Mazzulla out of the gate.
Chris Forsberg on the Udoka suspension, Sept. 23: “You could tell there has been an emotional toll that’s been taken … throughout the organization. This has rattled them, and this has taken them a little bit by surprise. You can tell that a season that started with so much optimism has been diminished, and now there’s uncertainty moving forward. … It’s remarkable to me just how this has stung them.”
Brad Stevens on Mazzulla, Sept. 23: “It’s not an easy timing for him or the rest of the staff, but he’s an exceptionally sharp and talented person. I believe strongly in him and his ability to lead people, his ability to galvanize a room and get it behind him.”
Part VII: Full speed ahead
So far, Stevens’ confidence in Mazzulla appears well-placed. The Celtics won 21 of their first 26 games to rocket to the top of the NBA standings, with Tatum playing like an MVP candidate and unheralded bench players like Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet playing key roles in victories.
Sam Hauser to Eddie House, Dec. 6: “Playing my role, making shots when they’re passing it to me, I think it definitely earned some trust. Especially Joe (Mazzulla). I mean, I feel like having trust with him is the biggest thing.”
Ex-NBA player Stromile Swift to Chris Forsberg on Luke Kornet imitating his dunk celebration, Nov. 29: “I thought the celebration was good but the interview was even better. I’m just happy some of these younger guys still remember me.”
The Celtics hit a December skid by losing five of six games. But they appeared to right the ship with a double-digit win over the Bucks on Christmas Day, so fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about their team entering the New Year.