“Stevens has a history of making the most out of limited resources” Josh Coyne – Double Clutch 2017-18 Season Guide
The Celtics are second in the Eastern Conference with a 54-27 record; despite losing Gordon Hayward five minutes into his debut, Kyrie Irving playing just 60 games due to injury, a 19-year-old rookie starting every game, as well as both Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown missing significant stretches with injuries. I know the East is historically weak, but LeBron James and the Cavs should have a better record than these banged-up Celtics! Heck you would even expect a full strength Washington squad to finish with a better record after posting 49 wins last season.
Instead the Celtics go into the playoffs with home court advantage and a coach who is arguably already one of the best in the league. They will be missing Kyrie (who has been ruled out until next season due to surgery on his knee) but you can’t overlook a squad who, even without Irving, beat Toronto twice and beat a host of other playoff squads such as Utah, Portland and Oklahoma. They have a defense-minded team with Rozier, Tatum, Brown, Horford and Baynes leading them to an 11 point victory over Toronto just a week ago.
This team will rely on its defense if it hopes to make it anywhere in the postseason. The best defense in the Eastern Conference doesn’t rely on one player – like the Utah Jazz – instead they are all long, athletic guys who can switch across the board. Horford is fairly comfortable guarding a guy on the perimeter after a switch, while guys like Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum all get in the passing lanes, grab steals and run the floor well. On top of that Marcus Smart could get back from hand surgery in time for some playoff action and it’s undoubtable that he has a significant impact on the defensive end.
All those injuries! From what this squad looked like during pre-season compared with now shows how significantly injuries can change a team’s outlook. Do they have the depth to go on a deep run? Is Terry Rozier a starting calibre point guard? Adding Greg Monroe during the season and picking up Shane Larkin are great additions but they aren’t going to replace Hayward and Irving, its not even close. Can Jayson Tatum keep putting up big numbers? Is Aron Baynes a good enough starting Center?
Right now teams are looking at playing the Celtics as an easier route to the Eastern Conference Finals and with a severely depleted squad it’s easy to see why. The Philadelphia 76ers, if they grab the third seed, would face-off with the Celtics in the second round. With Embiid back and the outstanding play of Ben Simmons, I could see the 76ers taking a win in that series.
When Hayward went down the Celtics didn’t throw in the towel and say “let’s grab another draft asset this year and wait for Hayward to return”, instead they secured the second spot in the East. Following a 0-2 start to the season, they went on a 16 game win streak and confidently declared that Celtics basketball was here to stay (again). But now, with Kyrie being out for the playoffs, it looks like management has decided that their focus is well and truly set on next season, and with the squad they have, that’s not a problem.
Jayson Tatum is going to be a really good player, Jaylen Brown has emerged as a potential star, Kyrie and Horford have clicked well together and next season looks like it could be another big year for the most successful franchise in NBA history.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER?
Without Kyrie Irving, I don’t believe a certain player is the most important for the Boston Celtics. Arguably the coaching of Brad Stevens will be the most important aspect of the Celtics postseason. That said, Al Horford becomes significantly more important to the team. His all-around game is difficult to defend; whether he is on the perimeter (where he is shooting 43% this season), making passes out of a double team (he’s averaging 4.7 assists this season) or scoring in general, Horford has the tools to help this team at least in the first round.
THE ONE TO WATCH?
The Celtics currently have five point guards on the roster, eventually someone has to go. The main two coming up for new contracts are Marcus Smart & Terry Rozier. This season Rozier has averaged 10.2 point, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists. As a starter he has bumped those numbers up to 16.1, 6.6 and 5.1 respectively, while his +/- has gone from a +1 to a +6.5. Looks like its Rozier’s chance to prove that the Celtics should invest in him as a long term back up to Kyrie Irving.
Written by Sam Chadwick – Copyright © 2018 Double Clutch. Double Clutch is not affiliated with the NBA and does not claim ownership over any NBA audio or images used. All rights are those of the NBA/NBA UK and respected parties e.g. Getty images.