NBA Panic Meter: Which Eastern Conference disappointment warrants more concern – Hawks or Celtics?

It has been about as bad as it gets for Celtics and Hawks, two Eastern Conference teams who have fallen well short of any expectations heading into the 2021-22 season.

Both teams are side-by-side in the standings, but nowhere near where they were projected to be, fighting to stay in the Play-In Tournament picture.

The Celtics have fallen to 16-19 after a horrendous loss to the Clippers without Paul George or Reggie Jackson. Boston posted the second-worst 3-point percentage in NBA history (min. 40 attempts), going 4-for-42 (9.5%) from beyond the arc in the loss.

The Hawks have lost their third game in a row, falling to 15-19 after another blowout loss to the Bulls, allowing 130-plus points to Chicago in back-to-back games. Since rattling off a seven-game win streak in November, Atlanta has lost 10 of their last 14 games.

The past two Eastern Conference runner-ups have looked like anything but title contenders, and three members of TSN staff are here to discuss which team they’re more concerned about.

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Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): I’m certainly more concerned about the Celtics.

In the last week, the Celtics have blown a double-digit lead to the Bucks in a game in which they led for 47-and-a-half minutes, they lost to a Timberwolves squad that was led by Jaylen Nowell, Nathan Knight and Greg Monroe and they’ve lost to the Clippers without Paul George (for the second time this year).

And that only adds to their long list of woes, like several other blown double-digit leads, owning the most losses in the clutch (20) in the NBA and failing to put together more than two wins in a row on all but one occasion this season.

Yes, they were missing Jayson Tatum and a bunch of other key rotation players due to health and safety protocols over the last few games, but what team isn’t dealing with the same situation? That doesn’t give the Celtics a pass, who are looking like one of the most confounding teams in the NBA on a nightly basis.

I’m not saying you have to blow it up and trade Tatum or Jaylen Brown, but something has to change. The effort level is inconsistent, the rotations and lineups don’t always make sense and the offense is far too reliant on their two stars putting up monster numbers to win.

It’s still so early into his head coaching career, but Ime Udoka doesn’t get a pass here, either. Everyone – from the players, to the coaches, to the front office – deserves some blame for this poor start.

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Nick Metallinos (@NickMetallinos): The Celtics are of most concern to me. If I were a Celtics fan, I’d be very concerned.

I think Tatum and Brown are great players, but I don’t think they’re the guys to lead a championship team. With each passing season it appears that all the draft picks and assets in Danny Ainge’s ‘warchest’ of years gone by will have been for nothing. They are a mid-level ball club right now, and I’m not sure if Ime Udoka is the right man to right the ship at this stage, and Brad Stevens in the front office doesn’t inspire confidence right now, either. 

I’m not sold on either of these guys being capable enough to make the shrewd moves required to bring in some more talent via trade.

They were right there – three Conference Finals in five seasons speaks volumes – but I think that window may have shut.

Personally I ‘m not as concerned about the Hawks because I feel like Atlanta overachieved last season, and I was never as high on them as others. Yes, Trae Young is incredible, but I got big 2014-15 Hawks energy from last year’s squad. Made a deep run under optimal conditions, but failed to back it up the following season. I’m seeing history repeat itself this season.

Yash Matange (@YashMatange2694): Considering their play up to the New Year of the 2021-22 season, I’d say I’m more concerned about the Celtics than the Hawks for a couple of reasons.

While the change in management and coaching could possibly extend the timeline on the Celtics’ current core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, it’s difficult to see them take that leap from a team that’s made it to three Conference Finals in the last four years to a legitimate contender.

Although their defense is ranked in the Top 10, their offensive struggles have been head scratching this season. Take a look at their two most recent games –

Through the games on Dec. 29, their offense is ranked in the bottom-third of the league, which is something they will have to work on if they intend to make a run for the title this season or in the near future with their current core. They might not have been together as long as core in Portland, but I feel it could be time for some roster changes there.

Regarding the Hawks, I believe they are still dealing with the hangover of their successful 2021 postseason run. They are a young squad, who have a couple of cornerstones in Trae Young and John Collins, and still have ways to go to reach their potential in my opinion.

Given that they have entered this season with more or less the same squad and coaching staff, I believe they will have the depth to work through this adversity. I could be wrong, given that their defense is ranked in the lower tier of the league, but I still feel they have a ways to go before really needing to press the panic button – especially when we compare their situation to the one in Boston.