Title got you confused? Let me enlighten you. The Celtics, that’s right, your Boston Celtics, are contenders this year. A David amongst Goliath’s? Definitely. But they have a chance nonetheless.
Now before you stop reading and hit that back button, I’m not here to preach to you that the Celtics are the best team in the NBA, because they aren’t , or even that they could maybe beat Golden State (or the Spurs, don’t count them out just yet) in a seven game series, because they probably can’t. Notice how I said probably in that last sentence because my sick, delusional, blind-faith in all Boston sports won’t allow me to admit that a Boston team doesn’t have a shot to win the title in any given year. No matter the circumstances.
But all bullshit and bias’ aside, this Celtics team is the real deal. They have an incredible coach in Brad Stevens who’s been getting praise from all across the NBA for his X’s and O’s and his set plays out of timeouts. Stevens has come in and masterfully utilized the Celtics culture of grit and grind that helped KG and Pierce hoist the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy in ’08 and he’s gotten 14 guys to completely buy into it as well.
After losing Kelly Olynyk for a month then losing two out of the first three to open up the post All-star break schedule, I thought for sure that the Celtics could soon find themselves trending downward. Then just like that they go on a four game tear and just as I predicted in my last post, they’ve began to crank it up on defense and have managed to hold three out of their last four opponents below the century mark. Not a bad turn of events.
Now with 18 games remaining in the season the Celtics sit at third place in the East with a record of 38-26. Only two teams are ahead of them; the circus in Cleveland and our Atlantic division rivals, the Raptors. Cleveland has yet to live up to the hype that was caused when LeBron chose to go home and join forces with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In fact, as of late the team has been a source of new rumors every other week. There are constantly reports of players not being happy with Kevin Love and his name was tossed around in trade rumors again this year. Most recently it’s been reported that Kyrie is not happy with the state of things in Cleveland.
At the trade deadline, the Cavs big splash was getting Channing Frye, I must have missed it but when did he become relevant again? After that they swung and missed on Joe Johnson. Bottom line the team is deteriorating and they’re extremely beatable in a playoff series, despite the embarrassing loss in Cleveland the other night. The Celtics are now 7.5 games out of first place in the East and although the loss wasn’t pretty I think it was a good gut check for the C’s. They had that game in the bag but simply lost their composure down the stretch, something they won’t let happen again come playoffs.
Toronto on the other hand, is a really good basketball team. Emphasis on the team part. I’d love to say the Celtics could take them easily, but Toronto would be a very tough team to beat in the playoffs. They have a three game lead on the Celtics and are 6-4 in their last ten. They show no signs of slowing up and to make matters worse for the Celtics they’ll be getting Demarre Carrol back soon. Toronto is up three games on the C’s in the Atlantic and is currently winning the season series 2-0. The Raptors are good but the Celtics catching them certainly isn’t out of the question. Boston will get two more chances to defeat Toronto and tie up the season series and both games will be crucial if the Celtics want to win the East.
In the East, it’s obvious that these are the two teams standing between the Celtics and a Finals appearance, although the Heat have been hot after the addition of Joe Johnson and if Bosh returns soon they’ll be legitimate contenders as well. Beyond those four teams, the rest of the East is just about the same in terms of how difficult they are to beat (76ers are the exception). That being said, that doesn’t mean the Celtics couldn’t go out and lose to the Hawks or the Bulls in the first round but I consider that unlikely. As far as beating the top teams, I’d say I’m more scared of the Raptors than I am of the Cavs, but the Celtics have shown they are capable of beating any team in the league on any given night so it’s not crazy to say they could beat either team in a seven game series. If you can’t see that you don’t watch basketball, plain and simple and quite frankly, I don’t care to hear your opinion.
— Jackie Moon (@IANevenknowit) March 3, 2016
With all the above in mind, here’s my bold prediction for the remainder of the season. The Celtics will finish the season on a 15-5 run, posting a final record of 52 wins and 30 losses. All season long it’s been all about Brad finding the right combinations. The Celts came in with a roster of 15 guys and any single one of them could go out and contribute. The team started slow as Stevens rotated his interchangeable parts in and out of lineups until: BOOM. Out of thin air, Stevens created a starting lineup and a bench contingent that were so similar in production that at times it’s hard to tell which is which. He’s found what pairings work best and which players mesh with each other. But the most important asset this roster possesses is their length and athleticism across the board that gives them the ability to play small ball and constantly switch off of picks. This allows their defense to attack the ball relentlessly and force teams to commit turnovers and take bad shots, all of which contributes to their third ranked defense. Their offensive numbers have increased as well, making them even more dangerous.
Make no mistake, this team has heard all the slights thrown their way all season and they’ve taken them to heart. They’re aware that nobody has them slated to do much in the postseason and you can bet your ass that has them motivated. Whether you want to believe it or not, this rag-tag band of overachievers has a legitimate shot to make the NBA Finals this year. Can they win? Ya, I guess they can but is it likely? I hate to admit it as a Celtics fan but no, it’s not likely that they’d win if they get there. This years Warriors will most likely go down as the greatest team to ever play the game so there’s no shame in admitting that they’d beat the Celtics in a seven game series. But the C’s would give them one hell of a fight, I’m sure of that.
So the Celtics could make it to the NBA Finals and probably lose to the Warriors, who the hell cares? Sure it’s not what you strive for at the beginning of the season, but when the ceiling for your aspirations at the start of the season is winning a playoff series, isn’t it a big deal that they could not only win a series but have the potential to advance to the Finals? I personally think so, especially when you consider that just two short seasons ago the Celtics sat at 12th in the East, anticipating a long rebuild before any thoughts of returning to the top.
Whether they make it to the Finals or not, the bigger picture is that this is only the beginning. Like i stated at the start of this post, I’m not here to tell you the Celtics will win the NBA finals this season, but I am here to remind you that they have a shot at making the Finals (i.e. being the second best team in the NBA) and will head into the off-season with their pockets strapped with cash and eight draft picks, so the futures looking very bright.
To wrap things up here’s my final prediction: finish the season 15-5 (now (14-4), a final record of 52-30, and they’ll take down the Raptors (who will win the East), in the Eastern Conference Finals in six games. I’ll save my Finals prediction for when they get there.