The New England Patriots just pulled off one of the greatest comebacks ever in Super Bowl LI. But take it from the game’s MVP himself: It’s time to pass the torch.
The official end of the football season means Boston fans can turn their undivided attention to their winter sports teams. They might like what they see, too — as of Wednesday, the Boston Celtics owned sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference at 33-18 and trailed the first-place Cleveland Cavaliers by just 2 1/2 games.
So, how did the C’s get here, and what does the road ahead look like? Here are the biggest storylines you may have missed while caught up in the Patriots’ title run.
ISAIAH THOMAS IS A SUPERSTAR
Remember all that talk about Boston lacking a star? Thomas has put that to rest this season. The 5-foot-9 point guard is averaging 29.9 points per game, behind only Russell Westbrook for best in the NBA. He’s scoring a ridiculous 10.7 fourth-quarter points per game, a historic pace that’s earned him the nickname “King of the Fourth” and given him a new celebration. He’s even gaining traction as an MVP candidate.
Simply put, Thomas is the biggest reason why the Celtics are the second-best team in the East right now.
The C’s have hit a few rough patches this season, some of which have coincided with injuries. A concussion in November sidelined new addition Al Horford for nine games, and Boston lost five of them. More significantly, guard Avery Bradley has missed the team’s last 14 games with an Achilles injury that’s taken longer to heal than expected.
Aside from a three-game losing streak, the Celtics have played well of late without Bradley. But he was averaging a career-best 17.7 points per game before his injury and is the team’s best defender, so Boston needs him healthy if it wants to continue its success.
FRONTCOURT HELP WANTED
Yes, the Celtics are currently a No. 2 seed, but they have a glaring weakness: rebounding. The C’s entered Wednesday ranked 28th in the NBA in rebounds per game and 26th in rebound differential, and the 6-foot-2 Bradley currently leads the team in rebounding with 6.9 boards per game.
The league’s Feb. 23 trade deadline is fast approaching, and Boston should seriously consider acquiring a frontcourt presence to help its woes on the glass.
The Celtics used a No. 3 overall pick on Jaylen Brown, and so far, he’s living up to the hype. Brown only is playing 15 minutes per game as head coach Brad Stevens eases him into the NBA, but Bradley’s injury has forced him into a starting role, and the 20-year-old has responded with 31 points in his last three games.
COMING FOR THE EAST CROWN?
Between their current seven-game winning streak, the amazing play of Thomas and Stevens getting to coach the East in the NBA All-Star Game, the Celtics are riding high (not to mention Brooklyn, in the midst of a 10-game losing streak has by far the league’s worst record). The Toronto Raptors (two games behind Boston) and the red-hot Washington Wizards (three games behind) are legitimate threats, but if this team stays healthy, it has the talent to secure the No. 2 seed in the East.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the class of the conference despite their recent struggles. But if Boston keeps playing at a high level — or if Danny Ainge swings a trade deadline blockbuster — it could reach the Eastern Conference Finals and possibly give LeBron James and Co. a run for their money.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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