By: PJ Guippone
Despite a stellar year and one of the best offensive players in the NBA, the Celtics haven’t been getting a ton of love as legitimate Eastern Conference rivals to the Cavs.
Following the trade that sent Serge Ibaka to Toronto from Orlando, everyone began to say that dumb thing again, “With this lineup, they have a chance to beat the Cavs.” This sentence is stupid for a couple of reasons. For starters, the only team in basketball that can ever beat the Cavs in a playoff series for the rest of Lebron James’ career is the Golden State Warriors. Secondly, and more importantly in my mind, of all the teams in the east, why the Raptors? I suppose you can make the case that two of the next 5 or 6 players in the Eastern Conference rep the North, but the Raptors are currently in fourth place in the conference, sitting 7 back from the one seed and only a half game up on the five.
How about we make a case for that team that must not show up on the majority of people’s screens when they look at the conference standings, the Boston Celtics, who sit only three games out of the one seed in second place. Currently sitting at 37-20, this team isn’t getting any recognition this season for their stellar play. They finally find themselves in the national spotlight, but because Danny Ainge decided to stay pat and hold on to the Nets picks at the deadline and not for their 24-8 record since December 16. Thank God for Isaiah Thomas, whose insane fourth quarter statistics is the only reason the team gets any mention in the national sports media.
Let this be the start of the hype train for the Celtics as a legitimate Eastern Conference threat. Led by the second leading scorer in the NBA, the Celtics sit at sixth in team scoring average at 108.4 points per game. As a matter of fact, they rank in the top half of the league in every major offensive category including first in free throw percentage, fifth in turnovers per game, and ninth in three-point shooting percentage. On the flip side of the court, they are also in the top half of the league in every major defensive category, including third in three-point percentage at .341. There is not another team in the top-tier of the Eastern Conference that can say that, not the Raptors, not even the Cavs.
In terms of personnel, this team has a fantastic roster led by one of the best coaches in the NBA in Brad Stevens. They have their superstar in Isaiah, another seasoned vet in Al Horford, and massive depth with twelve players logging at least 11 minutes per game and seven with at least 20. Their backcourt boasts not Isaiah, but one of the most underrated players in the league in Avery Bradley, one of the peskiest defenders in the league in Marcus Smart, and a backup point guard who is finally having a very good rookie season in Terry Rozier. Of the players logging at least ten minutes, nine of them are shooting at least 45% and seven are shooting at least 35% from beyond the arc. All of that without even talking directly about Swiss Army man Jae Crowder, who is averaging 13.8, 2.1, 5.8, and 1.1 steals with a slash line of .469/.405/.866.
Hopefully, the All Star break didn’t cool them off too much, but with a tilt tonight against the lone north-of-the-border squad, they will have a chance to show what they are about on a national stage since the game will be televised on ESPN. Whether you think they are an actual threat to the Cavs for the Eastern Conference crown or not (an opinion I will keep to myself because betting against the King is never a good bet), it is time to give some love to the Boston Celtics.