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Celtics are having fun again, but there is still a long road ahead

The Boston Celtics have gotten off to a 2-1 start this season, rebounding from a ugly opening-night loss to the Philadelphia 76ers by defeating the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks.

From watching the Celtics over these first three games, one thing is clear: they are having fun again.

You don’t need to be an elite analyst to see that Boston simply looks different this season. The body language is better, guys are playing more freely and the team just seems to be enjoying basketball for the first time since the 2018 playoffs.

But as great as it is that the Celtics are playing with joy, a lot of questions still remain.

Let me start by saying that the C’s are blessed with the good fortune of playing in the Eastern Conference.

When it’s all said and done this season, Boston should be, at worst, a top-four seed in the conference. To be perfectly honest, Celtics really should finish in the top three given how Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo will likely miss the first two months (at least).

Not only that, but Boston actually has a legitimate chance to represent the East in the NBA Finals, as there is no truly dominant team that stands out among the pack.

Yes, the Milwaukee Bucks won 60 games last year, but they lost Malcolm Brogdon over the summer, and their supporting cast around Giannis Antetokounmpo is questionable.

The Sixers may have the most talented starting five after poaching Al Horford from the Celtics, but their floor spacing is a major concern, as is their lack of a bench.

But we can’t just look at other teams’ shortcomings when assessing Boston. We have to actually look at the Celtics themselves, and while they are certainly a good team, the future for the remainder of this season is rather murky.

What we do know is that there is a really good starting lineup in place. Kemba Walker is an All-Star, Gordon Hayward is looking better and better, Jayson Tatum is playing smarter and Jaylen Brown looks revitalized after his contract extension. Also, Enes Kanter (when his knee gets healthy) is, at the very least, a really good offensive player and a great rebounder.

The bench is another story.

Outside of Marcus Smart, Boston’s reserves are entirely unproven. The Celtics are relying heavily on rookies and inexperienced guys off the pine, and that could come back to bite them, as talented as their young guys may be.

Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, Tacko Fall and Romeo Langford (who has yet to debut due to a knee injury) are all rookies. Robert Williams is in his second season. Vincent Poirier was just signed from Europe over the summer. Daniel Theis has some experience, but he is still just in his third NBA campaign, and injuries have largely marred his career thus far.

Semi Ojeleye and Brad Wanamaker don’t inspire much confidence, although Ojeleye is a pretty good defender.

Basically, if the Celtics’ starting five does not get the job done, the team is going to be in some trouble.

The good news is that their youngsters have shown some promise. Grant Williams is already winning over Celtics fans with his Smart-esque play up front, while Robert Williams is incredibly talented and has “stud” written all over him. Fall is, well, he’s 7-foot-5, and everyone loves big guys who don’t have to jump to dunk.

But expecting any of those players to remain consistent over the course of an 82-game grind is just blissful ignorance.

To be fair, the Celtics are hardly the only Eastern Conference contender with this problem. The Bucks are probably best off of the bunch, but even their bench is nothing to be envied. The Sixers? They are depending on Mike Scott and James Ennis. The Pacers are largely in the same boat as Boston, leaning heavily on young guys.

As a matter of fact, you know who probably has the best bench in the East? The Brooklyn Nets, but because they are probably a step below the top four teams in the conference, they don’t necessarily belong in this discussion.

Back on topic, it’s hard to expect much consistency from the Celtics overall this season when their bench is full of a bunch of guys who have barely even seen an NBA floor, and that is not something Boston is used to.

Ever since the Kevin Garnett days, the C’s have always had a deep bench, whether it was Leon Powe or Eddie House or Tony Allen or Glen Davis or Nate Robinson or Rasheed Wallace or … well, the list goes on and on.

But the Celtics’ depth has always been a big reason why they have been a perennial contender. This year, they don’t have that, so it will be somewhat of an adjustment period for the franchise.

Of course, this is kind of a bridge year for Boston anyway. Not even the most die-hard C’s fans think this team is capable of winning a championship. As long as the Williamses and Langford (when healthy) and the rest of the youngsters develop, and Tatum and Brown improve, that’s all that matters.

So, yes: the Celtics are having fun again, and they are fun to watch again. No more watching a dysfunctional team that looked like it could not care less on random nights during the season (and even in the playoffs).

Instead, we have an exciting young group that has a lot of potential … and a lot to prove.

But that’s better than what the city of Boston was subjected to a year ago, when the C’s had the same 2-1 record as they do right now, but things didn’t seem quite right.