Five Reasons Why Second-Seeded Celtics Can Reach (& Win) NBA Finals

Boston's defense and stars make for a great combination

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The second-seeded Boston Celtics enter the NBA Playoffs viewed by many as a championship contender, and for good reason.

Boston, who likely will have to go through a gauntlet in the Eastern Conference just to make the NBA Finals, has been arguably the best team in basketball the last two months. And their remarkable in-season turnaround showcased many of the key factors that make them a contender to raise the organization’s 18th banner.

Here are five of the biggest reasons why Boston should be viewed that way:

Elite team defense
The Celtics finished the regular season with the league’s best defense rating. They held that title throughout the last few months as Ime Udoka’s group continued to buckle down and play as a five-man unit. Boston’s versatility allows for easier switches in the pick-and-roll game while Al Horford and Daniel Theis, two big men, have the ability to make it difficult for guards off the dribble. Marcus Smart, previously the betting favorite for defensive player of the year, is largely impactful in his role, as well. Smart, possessing identical versatility, has the defensive prowess to play forwards and centers while locking down guards. The Celtics have four of the top nine players in the league when it comes to defensive rating with Jayson Tatum (fifth), Robert Williams (seventh), Horford (eighth) and Jaylen Brown (ninth). It’s made for a nasty group that has the ability to shutdown high-powered offenses in the playoffs, much like it has done all season long.

Stars aligning
The productivity and efficiency of Tatum and Brown has been arguably Boston’s biggest development of the second-half of the season. The two players, who already possessed the ability to score, now have grown in how they let the game come to them while consistency making the right basketball play. The Celtics are in a great spot entering the postseason because of those two two rising superstars with each capable of dropping 40-plus any given night. It’s even more noteworthy that Tatum and Brown have become increasingly comfortable dropping 30 points apiece in wins. Plus, would it really surprise anyone if Tatum, specifically, went on to score 50 in a big spot?

Unselfish offense
The Celtics have played a beautiful brand of basketball in the last two months with their buy-in on the offensive end. Boston, led by the unselfishness of Tatum and Brown, has offered clinics on ball movement, depicted as the C’s ended the regular season averaging 31 assists per game over the final three contests. And while that’s not the largest of sample sizes, the eye test tells you how well the group is playing together, not letting the ball stick in the half court. Smart has played extremely well in the facilitator role, setting teammates up for easy looks, too. In fact, Smart (5.9 assists per game), Tatum (4.4), Brown (3.5) and Robert Williams (2.0) all set career-best assist numbers this season. That kind ball movement is going to be extremely difficult to defend.

Return of Robert Williams
Udoka continues to acknowledge that while the Celtics do not expect Williams to return for the first round of the postseason, they haven’t officially ruled it out yet. That feels like a positive, right? Sure, more likely than not Williams will be back in the second round after tearing his meniscus and thus needing surgery some two weeks ago. It was initially expressed as a four-to-six-week recovery. Williams is one of the most important players for the Celtics when it comes to reaching their ceiling. Should the Celtics be able to stay afloat without Williams in the lineup, his impending return catapults them to a new level — a title-contending level.

Battle-tested in East
Boston went a combine 20-13 against the top 10 teams in the Eastern Conference this season. That’s respectable, one may even say good, but that’s also a full-season sample and thus not the team the C’s have become. What they’ve become is a team that can beat Joel Embiid and the 76ers by 48 points, a team that can beat the Heat by 30 points and a team that can beat Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Nets by six like they did in early March with Tatum putting on an All-NBA performance. The Celtics enter the postseason having that experience, not to mention some big wins over Western Conference foes, which could go a low way.

The Celtics will face the winner of the Brooklyn Nets-Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Play-In Game, which will be held Tuesday night. Boston will start its postseason Sunday.

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