It’s time to put some respect on the Boston Celtics’ name when it comes to the NBA’s return and the potential of them going all the way.
The team’s 43-21 record this season, and all the other intangibles that make it seem more or less impressive, see the Celtics in third place in the Eastern Conference standings.
And finally, the team is back together after five long months, gearing up for the NBA’s return at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. and their first seeding game against the Milwaukee Bucks on July 31.
And for a few reasons, it feels like the Celtics benefit from this outrageous return-to-play plan more than most teams. Mostly, because Boston is elite at forcing and capitalizing off of chaos.
But will they be able to win it all once the league returns with eight seeding games per team before a potential play-in tournament and a more traditional NBA Playoffs?
Let’s make the case.
Sportsbooks have the Celtics at +1200 to win the NBA Finals, the fourth-best odds in the league after the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers. All teams they’ve beaten at some point this season.
Really, there’s no top team the Celtics aren’t capable of defeating, though the Philadelphia 76ers give them quite a hard time this year. But by pulling off a very plausible scenario where Boston avoids the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs, a lot of doors open up.
That, combined with returning a healthy roster.
So far this season, Boston ranks in the top-five in both its offensive and defensive rating, own the second-best winning percentage against the 13 other teams that are above .500 and have four players averaging 17 points per game or higher. They’re also 6-2 against the five best teams in the East and certainly have proven the Celtics can hang with anyone in the West.
And more often than not, Boston isn’t even at its full strength. It’s wild what they’ve accomplished despite that fact.
Coach Brad Stevens’ favorite variation of the starting lineup seems to be Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Daniel Theis. That group has played just 17 of 60 games together.
Substitute Theis in for Marcus Smart, and that lineup has been completely active on only 15 occasions. Not to mention the athleticism and rim protection the Celtics missed with sophomore center Robert Williams out for months.
But the pandemic has given them time to get healthy. And though Walker will be on an initial minutes restriction to get his knee healthy for the playoffs, the full-strength Celtics should be able to best other teams with all the different ways they can score.
There’s Walker off the pick-and-roll, and then the luxury of three fantastic wings in Tatum, Brown and Hayward who all coexist so well to contribute to the offense in their own ways.
How do you even guard this roster when everyone is playing? It’s difficult, especially on the other side of the ball where the Celtics are so good defensively too.
No, they don’t have a LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo. But they have a scrappy Smart and versatile Brown who can guard the best of them.
And every team, no matter how many superstars it boasts, faces the same risk as everyone else when it comes to a coronavirus outbreak.
The bottom line is a new banner earned during the pandemic still counts towards 18.