4 Playoff X-factors the Boston Celtics could lean on

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics
Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics / Winslow Townson/GettyImages

The Boston Celtics have just 9 games remaining in the regular season and, despite two gut-wrenching losses to the Atlanta Hawks, are still a powerhouse heading into the playoffs.

Throughout the entire regular season, the Celtics have been considered the best team in the league. But now, none of that really matters, as the Celtics will not be satisfied with anything but banner number 18. 

If the Cs play as they have all year, they will be in pretty good shape. But again, playoffs are different games, and the Celtics, like everyone else, will need to adapt. Now, in order for Boston to take that leap and be elite in the playoffs, some players will have to step up and carry more of a load. So let’s take a look at who that might be.

Jayson Tatum

When Jayson Tatum was really making a push to be the NBA’s MVP, half of the people would use his stats against him. The other half would make the argument that he’s on a great team and doesn’t need to put up better numbers, especially since he’s the best player on the best team. 

While it is true, the Boston Celtics have a lot of talent, and Tatum doesn’t need to put otherworldly numbers in order for the team to succeed. There are nights when he can take a backseat to Jaylen Brown, Kristaps Porziņģis, Derrick White, Jrue Holiday, or even a flamethrower from the bench like Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard.

The Celtics are truly blessed to have so many outlets that can lead them to success. However, if they want to win in the playoffs, where every game is crucial, Tatum does need to step up.

More specifically, Tatum needs to step up in crunch time. Sure, Brown has 30+ points and has been efficient, give him the ball in crucial late game possessions. But remember, Jayson Tatum is the best player on the best team. He’s one of the best players in the entire league and one of the most unstoppable forces on offence. If the Celtics need a score to stop a run, close out a game, or get back in the lead, 9 times out of ten, it should be in the hands of Jayson Tatum.

Tatum is shooting just 1/7 in the final ten seconds of games where the Celtics are tied or behind. In the playoffs, there will be a handful of scenarios like that, and Tatum, as the best player, will have to step up for the Celtics to reach their ultimate goal of winning an NBA Finals this season.

Jaylen Brown

Brown has already taken a late-season jump in his level of play, so we won’t talk about him much, but if we want to think back to last year's playoffs, he too needs to step up. When defenses changed during the playoffs last year, it hurt Brown. Miami Heat forward Caleb Martin even revealed their game-plan game plan was to force Brown to go left, his weak hand side. 

While it isn’t anything too abnormal to want a player to beat you with their weak hand and the whole thing with Brown’s left hand has been very much overblown, it is still important. You can see in his shot chart from this season that he hasn’t shied away from the left side, so let’s see him carry that over to the playoffs.

Al Horford

It almost feels wrong to ask more of Al Horford, as he is now 37, and if the Celtics make the Finals, he will have turned 38 by that time. He has already given the Celtics so much throughout his six years with the organization, but he’ll have to do it once more. Horford has played in 59 of 73 games this season and, despite his age, is still very important to the success of the Celtics.

If at any point the Celtics find themselves in a series against the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, or a Joel Embiid led Philadelphia 76ers, Horford is going to be crucial in guarding some very talented players. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid are obviously two of the best players in the NBA, and while Bam Adebayo isn’t in that same tier of players, he is still key for the Heat.

In the past, Horford has had success guarding all three of those players in the regular season and playoffs, and it is going to be needed more than ever in a possible best-of-seven series against any one of those three teams this season. Where Kristaps Porziņģis is more of a threat on offense, he can struggle defensively with someone like Antetokounmpo, Embiid, or Adebayo, and that's where Horford comes in. He can handle those players with minimal help, so the Celtics aren’t leaving players open on the perimeter, and that will prove to be very valuable.

Payton Pritchard

Payton Pritchard has seemingly already taken that step up as the playoffs have gotten closer, so this is more saying he will need to maintain this level of play. On the year, Pritchard has averaged 8.7 points, 3.1 assists, and 3.2 rebounds and has done well as a backup guard.

During his last ten games, however, Pritchard has upped his game and has averaged 13.4 points, 5.9 assists, and 3.7 rebounds. This season, he will find himself in the biggest role he’s had with the Cs in the playoffs yet. If he can maintain those recent numbers, which are a step up from his season-long stats, it will do wonders for the Celtics. 

In those last ten games, the Celtics are 8-2 with both losses being against the Hawks, which obviously isn’t due to Pritchard and was more of a team issue. So the Cs succeed when they give him more opportunity, and the idea of pairing him with one of Holiday or White for some playoff minutes is very appealing. 

Not that a pairing of White and Holiday isn’t amazing, because it is, but giving them a run with Pritchard is a different look and will mix things up for opposing defenses, especially if he can maintain his recent level of play. Having a backup point guard like Pritchard, who is very different from Holiday and White, perform well will certainly help take the Celtics to another level.