This season, the Celtics have gotten no media attention outside of New England, but they’ve gotten wins. And that’s what matters.
These Celtics have far exceeded preseason expectations heading into the home stretch of the season. I’ll be a man. I’ll swallow my words from October, when I wrote that they would be a “sixth, maybe fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.” Now, they have separated themselves from the mire of mid-level, .500 teams and are knocking on the door of the second-seeded Toronto Raptors. Winners of four straight and 12 in a row at home, the Celtics are carrying serious momentum into the end of the season. Their current play begs the question: Could the Celtics challenge the Cavaliers or Raptors for an Eastern Conference Finals berth?
They can and probably will. Here’s why: They have a different hero every night. The Celtics have the deepest bench in the NBA and so many different ways to win games, whether it be late-game playmaking by Evan Turner or suffocating defense by Marcus Smart. The Spurs have been so successful over the last decade because their star — Tim Duncan — has been complemented by countless effective role players who can manufacture wins even when Duncan has an off night.
Critics clamored this autumn that the Celtics lacked a star who could produce points in clutch situations. Isaiah Thomas has undoubtedly emerged in that role, putting up over 20 points and dishing out seven assists on a nightly basis. The players that surround Thomas have created a positive team atmosphere that promotes winning and spreads the wealth offensively. Take Wednesday night, for example, when Thomas led the charge with 30 points, yet there were five other Celtics in double figures — including Marcus Smart and Jonas Jerebko, who came off the bench.
Much of the credit to the Celtics’ success this season belongs to Coach Brad Stevens. He has masterfully managed the team and the players’ egos to ensure that each player can contribute optimally when he gets in the game. Configuring the Celtics’ lineup and in-game personnel norms was much like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle at the beginning of the season. Now, the players are comfortable with their roles and confident in each other.
Credit also goes to the players, who have meshed so well into this system. Other players would have let their egos get in the way of being a role player or being a bench player, but these Celtics have bought into their job of helping the team win rather than fighting for airtime on SportsCenter.
With the Raptors close in the standings and the Cavaliers as volatile as they are, I can easily see the Celtics making a playoff push to the Eastern Conference Finals. The issue with these Celtics is that they are largely unproven in the playoffs. They are part of a young team that lacks players who have led a team to the postseason’s second round. While the Celtics have been respectable on the road, they have been practically unbeatable at home in the second half of the season. Home invulnerability can be very useful in the current two-two-one-one-one home-away playoffs format.
The other aspect of the Celtics that will help in the playoffs is their ability to come back in the second half of games. Each game in the playoffs is too important to fold on after a lousy first half. The Celtics have proven this season that they are capable of surmounting 10-plus point deficits to win games.
A coach the players like playing for. A point guard who can create points. Role players who lock down on defense and knock down shots. Looks like basketball is back in Boston. Not just this season but for a few years down the road.
Charlie Blasberg ’18 thinks that Tim Duncan could even take him to the playoffs. Tell him he’s wrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.