The Boston Celtics were one of the hottest teams in the NBA when COVID-19 sent the entire world of sports into a downward spiral. Now, with the season restarting in the NBA Orlando Bubble, it’s time to decide whether or not the Celtics are legitimate title contenders or just pretenders on vacation at Disney World.
Boston Celtics: Contenders or Pretenders
Team Chemistry and All-Star Talent
In terms of a starting five, the Celtics have one of the best lineups in all of basketball. They’ve got two All-Stars in Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum alongside former All-Star Gordon Hayward and borderline/future All-Star Jaylen Brown. Then, to top it all off, they’ve got one of the best hustle players in the entire NBA coming off the bench in fan-favorite Marcus Smart.
Even though they’re loaded with talent, this is a team that has virtually no egos. Coach Brad Stevens’ system relies on selfless offense and pesky defense, and the 2020 Celtics are bought in on both.
The biggest weakness in their roster is their bench play. However, that is a relative weakness, not a true flaw. Starting center Daniel Theis has provided several clutch performances over the course of the season and Tremont Waters is looking like a legitimate NBA point guard during the Orlando Bubble preseason. Tacko Fall is another fan favorite, but likely won’t play much of a role in the NBA restart, though Enes Kanter could provide some valuable relief.
Health: Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward
Health has plagued the Celtics for years. From Kevin Garnett‘s injury in 2009 and Kendrick Perkins‘ in 2010 to Isaiah Thomas‘ hip and Kyrie Irving and Hayward missing significant time, the injury bug has never been in Boston’s favor.
Now, Walker is dealing with nagging knee issues. The Celtics can still make plenty of noise in the Eastern Conference with Walker played a reduced role, but if he’s unable to go at any point, they will cease to be legitimate title contenders. Full stop. Though Tatum may be the best player on the team (more on him in a bit), Walker is the heart and soul of the offense. He’s the perfect compliment to wing talent that surrounds him on the offensive end of the floor. He’s the difference in a second-round exit and an NBA Finals berth. If the knee holds up, watch out for the Celtics. But the second it becomes a real issue, cash in on the Milwaukee Bucks.
Hayward is another player to watch in terms of injuries. Though he is fully healed from his gruesome leg injury, he is still fighting to find his pre-injury rhythm. He has shown flashes of greatness through the season, but we’ve yet to see if he can still be the same guy he once was. Perhaps this break has given his body even more time to heal and catch up to the competition. If so, he could play a pivotal role in taking the Celtics to the next level.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Rising Stars
Tatum and Brown might be the best young duo in the NBA. Before the COVID break, Tatum was quickly climbing the ladder toward the top of the league. He and Brown have both made huge leaps this season, asserting themselves as some of the best of the best at their respective positions. If their progression continues, the Celtics will be a threat for years to come.
But what does it mean for the 2020 Bubble?
Brown is off to a flaming-hot start in the new preseason, and Tatum is finding his footing again. To compete for a championship, both will have to play at the highest level of their careers. Luckily for Celtics fans, they both seem to be ascending to new heights right in front of our eyes. If they can continue the trend, they can push the Celtics toward the top of the Eastern Conference.
Record Against the Favorites
The Celtics have a relatively favorable record against the three top teams in the NBA Bubble. They played the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, and Milwaukee Bucks twice each before the end of the ‘normal’ season and split each series.
Against the Bucks, the Celtics won 116-105 at home and lost 128-123 on the road. As for the Lakers, Boston dominated their home contest 139-107 but fell on the road in a nail biter, 114-112. Then, against the Clippers, the Celtics lost an overtime thriller on the road, 107-104, but won another overtime bought in perhaps the greatest game of the year at the TD Garden. In that double-overtime thriller, Boston pulled out a 141-133 win behind 39 points from Tatum in his coming-out party.
According to these trends, the Celtics can hang with the big dogs but fare better when playing at home. However, with homecourt advantage out the window, it’s unknown whether this is an advantage or disadvantage for Boston. Either way, on a neutral floor, there’s no reason to believe the Celtics can’t go toe-to-toe with the top teams in the league.
Boston Celtics Verdict: Contenders
The Boston Celtics certainly aren’t one of the favorites to win the title. They aren’t even favorites to win the Eastern Conference. However, they’ve got the roster, chemistry, talent, and experience to make a serious push for the NBA Finals. They can match up with any team in the league and push them to multiple games in a series.
Now, with home-court advantage virtually eliminated, the Celtics have even more of a chance to steal a game or two in the playoffs. On a neutral floor, there’s no reason to believe they couldn’t make the Eastern Conference Finals, if not the NBA Finals. And once a team gets that far, anything can happen.
They probably won’t win it, but the Celtics are absolutely contenders for the 2020 NBA Title.
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