BASKETBALL SEASON IS UPON US
Training camp is less than a week away and the basketball junkies are coming out of hibernation. Soon enough, a clearer picture of what we can expect the Celtics to look like will start to show itself. So, you’re probably expecting a post about how the Celtics are going to go all the way this year, right?!?
Well, this is the part where I tell you to temper expectations just a little bit. It’s an exciting time to be a Celtics fan, but moreover a fan of the NBA in general. A lot of teams have a similar buzz around them. The Celtics might have a tough time shining the brightest in the 2018 Playoffs. Even if they eclipse their previous high-water mark for the fourth consecutive year and reach the NBA Finals, a juggernaut will await. It won’t be a cake walk.
I wrote an article about how this team shouldn’t have any problems hitting the ground running, and I stick to that. We should see some amazing basketball out of the Celtics this year. Furthermore, I don’t think they’ll have many problems with team chemistry. This group of guys just seem to mesh together already; it’s the perfect mixture of skill sets ready to complement one another. Add in some colorful personalities to taste, and it smells like a recipe for success. The things I think will hold this team back initially all share a common thread – inexperience.
ON YOUR MARK…
Most of the players we had that gained playoff experience in the past few years are gone. Sure, Kyrie won a championship and should be a leader of the Celtics in time. Can we really expect a 25-year-old to lead even younger guys to the top of the NBA in less than a year, though? Stevens and Hayward have been to the championship stage before together in college but didn’t win. Horford won in college and should step further into a leadership role. All things considered, the reality is this team needs more experience before being catapulted into the history books.
Even further, they simply lack experience in terms of player age. Let’s face it: this is one of the youngest teams in the NBA. They will be relying on first- and second-year players making a big impact if they want to make a deep playoff run. Jaylen Brown did get meaningful PT last year in the playoffs. He was on the floor frequently in the ECF and was even tasked with guarding Lebron James at times. Jayson Tatum very well might be the best rookie in his class. And fellow rook “The Terminator” Semi Ojeleye might just contribute immediately on defense as Brad Stevens indicates. Regardless, this is a team with five rookies on guaranteed deals and 10 players 25 years of age or younger.
PLANT THE SEEDS AND WATCH THEM GROW
This team to me is complete. When I say that, I mean I don’t think they really need to add anything major to compete for championships. The biggest thing that is going to help them reach another level is organic growth in the coming years. The young stars, Jaylen and Jayson, need to continue to improve. Hopefully one or both will be ready for crucial starting roles within a couple years. The other rookies need to find ways to contribute as well, and the younger guards that have been here (Smart and Rozier) need to start showing leadership and growth.
Even the players at the top of the lineup are still getting better in Irving and Hayward. The only player that seems to have reached his peak playing level is Horford, and he still has some great years ahead of him. The dynamic of this team is exciting, but there are a lot of moving parts here. Only time will tell if they are all moving in the same direction.
So where will this team get its leadership? Kyrie will be expected to take on that role, and he seems ready for the challenge. Al Horford will be another guy the Celtics will lean on heavily this season to keep everybody focused on the goal of winning a championship, something he did twice in college at Florida. He is the oldest and most experienced player on the team at 31 with 10 years of NBA experience. Together these two have 144 playoff games good for 143 starts. But when you take them out of the equation, the situation is pretty grim; the rest of the team has a combined total of 114 playoff games under their belt, good for just 27 starts.
PLAYOFFS? WE TALKIN’ BOUT PLAYOFFS??
Getting down to brass tacks, I see this team finishing as the number-one seed in the East again, with a slightly better record than last year. I’ll peg them for 55-60 wins which should easily get them the top spot. The Cavs will be without Isaiah to start the season, trying to figure it out. When he does come back, they’ll have to reconfigure again.
The second round will be the first real test for the new look C’s, but don’t expect it to be a drawn out battle. The number-one seeded Celtics move on to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second consecutive year. Following the same narrative as last year, they run in to a team they have yet to see all season – the Playoff Cavaliers.
WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
There is no way to sugarcoat it. The Cavaliers are going to be in the Eastern Conference Finals, and they will be ready. Not only ready to play, but ready specifically to beat the Boston Celtics. There will be a guy by the name of Isaiah Thomas in the ECF, playing with a chip on his shoulder. Oh, and he’s going to have his friend Jae Crowder with him as well, ready to lock down Lebron James all game. Wait.. this is getting confusing. We can’t put Jae on Lebron?
Seriously, that’s going to be an issue. As if that weren’t enough, lining him up with Lebron on defense is going to be scary for any team. And then there’s the fact that, well, Lebron does a lot more than just play defense. Not to mention he’s going to be out to show Kyrie he made the wrong choice leaving Cleveland. When the best player in the world has your number, it’s never a good thing.
JUST BEING REAL, FOLKS
This series is going to be a classic, point blank period. The last time I was waiting for a particular series before the season started, it was the Celtics-Lakers in the Finals. It is simply the fate of these two teams to go the distance in the Conference Finals after all that has transpired. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but my prediction is the Celtics will lose to the Cavaliers in seven. The inexperience of the young C’s will show itself, and the Cavs will be more hungry for it this season. They will be out for revenge; the Celtics are just going to be taking it all in. The Cavs also don’t have the luxury of youth and (take a seat, Danny, your job is done) stability, and thus have more of a sense of urgency to win now.
All things considered, if the Celtics get this far, it’s not that far-fetched to see them advancing to the Finals. Anything can happen in a game seven, but I don’t think that scenario favors the Celtics. In the wise words of former Celtics coach Doc Rivers, “you never want the series to get to a game seven when the best player is on the other team.” He was talking about Lebron James, right after his Celtics team lost to the Heat in game seven of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. Lebron had 45pts-15rbs-5ast in that game. Fast forward six years and I think the narrative proves to be eerily similar. The Celtics crawl a tad further into uncharted waters in their quest for Banner 18, but fall just shy of the NBA Finals this year.
Stay tuned for my upcoming article on when the Celtics will win their next championship!!