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Are the Celtics Faltering at a Bad Time?

The Celtics will qualify for the playoffs. It'll take something miraculous for them not to be in contention, at the very minimum, for a Finals appearance. However, their form has taken a sharp turn in recent games. They were vying comfortably with the Bucks for first seed in the Eastern Conference, but now the Celtics have been experiencing a bad streak, losing their steady pace to claim that position.

However, despite this slump, many NBA betting sites still have the Celtics as favourites for this season's NBA championship. With Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon, Blake, Griffin, and Al Horford – in addition to notable role and bench players - the Celtics have a roster stacked with firepower and defensive prowess. But should this downturn in form worry Celtics fans, and provide hope to fans of the Bucks and Suns - the closest contenders?

Jayson Tatum's Form

Tatum's claim to being an MVP contender has been strong all season. However, performances of his peers - like Jokic, Giannis, Embiid, and Doncic - have outshone him from time-to-time and his inconsistency through this team slump has brought doubts to this claim. It's unlikely he'll win MVP this season - especially with Jokic doing what he's doing. However, there is a Tatum problem to Tatum's MVP claim.

Staying fresh is something he's been aware of since the Finals loss last season to Curry and the Warriors. He felt like he wasn't as sharp in decisive moments of decisive games. In the off-season, this was a focus. To be ready, to be fresh, and to be consistent in the moments where his team needs him. Across this season, he has been playing more minutes than he has ever done. He has been reliable. He has produced. But now, at the crunch time of the regular season, he's been poor. His output has significantly dropped since the All-Star break. If this is fatigue, then it should be a simple solution: rest. However, to be a true MVP candidate, players have to be ready to play 35-minutes, at least, every regular season game, even before the Playoffs begin.

Tatum will turn up in the Playoffs. But will he be ready for those decisive moments?

Losing Winnable Matchups

The Celtics losses this season have a pattern. They've fallen short against teams they shouldn't, and in those games, their opposition have followed similar blueprints. Being aggressive on D, positioning themselves a little closer or outside the perimeter to contest passes and dribbles where the Celtics prefer to shoot from - as the Celtics tend to leave the paint well alone - has been one key.

As has being physical and playing at a fast pace.

Fast break points have been a thorn in the side of this Celtics team all season, and their opponents were capitalising on this during losses the Celtics shouldn’t have really had.

On a physical note, the Celtics are willing to put their bodies on the line and get in the face of their opposition, but they are economical with it - not going all-out. If opponents are willing to put in an extra 10%, really putting it to the Celtics, then sometimes the Celtics players won’t respond through fear of contact that could result in injury.

These problems appear to be "regular season" problems. It could be that once the Playoffs hit full swing the Celtics contender form will become concrete and real, and these issues will be history. However, games are decided on margins. Tired airballs and/or poor defensive transition could cost them glory.