Are the Boston Celtics for real?
It’s a question we’ve been left to ponder for four and a half months with the 2019-20 NBA season on pause amid the coronavirus pandemic. And even though no official games have been played in that span, the C’s seem to be emerging as a popular dark-horse contender among basketball pundits.
Boston, which currently occupies the third seed in the Eastern Conference behind the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors, is stocked with talent, and the overall unpredictability of the NBA campaign moving forward just might open the door for a surprise champion.
ESPN.com on Monday published its power rankings, which also featured a breakdown of the best- and worst-case scenarios for all 22 teams participating in the league’s restart inside the Orlando bubble. The Celtics checked in at No. 7, one spot behind the Miami Heat and one spot ahead of the Houston Rockets.
Here’s what NBA analyst Tim Bontemps wrote of Boston’s outlook:
Best-case scenario: Jayson Tatum continues his ascent to superstardom, Kemba Walker’s knee isn’t an issue and, Boston’s combination of versatility and length gets the Celtics back to the NBA Finals for the first time in a decade.
Worst-case scenario: The Celtics find themselves matched up with the rival 76ers in the first round. And while former Celtic Al Horford’s fit in Philly has been awkward at best, the Sixers’ size will send Boston home from the bubble in the first round.
The Celtics aren’t ranked too highly in Monday’s power rankings — which reflect voting results from a group of more than 40 reporters, insiders and editors, per ESPN.com — but there’s reason to be optimistic about Brad Stevens’ bunch.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have made significant strides this season, while Kemba Walker has been able to use the NBA’s lengthy hiatus as an opportunity to get healthy. Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart also are capable of making an impact on any given night.
Perhaps the biggest question will center around Boston’s front-court depth and whether the Celtics have enough firepower to protect the rim. If Enes Kanter and/or Daniel Theis steps up, the C’s will be a tough out in the playoffs.