BLOGTABLE: Case for and against Celtics in Finals?
NBA.com Global on Mar 21, 2019 09:23 AM
FILE - BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 30: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics stand for the National Anthem before the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on November 30, 2017 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
Your case for and against the Boston Celtics going all the way to The Finals?
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Steve Aschburner: Since I picked Boston at the start of the season to reach The Finals, I don’t have to labor to cite reasons why it still might happen: talent, experience and coaching. The Celtics still have the deepest roster among the East contenders, in my opinion. They reached Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference finals. And I think Brad Stevens and staff locking into one opponent for four to seven games is a legit competitive advantage. However, since I’ve seen Boston often since the start of the season, I can see things going awry. Essentially adding Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving (absent from playoffs) hasn’t sparked a big leap. In fact, there is a chemistry problem on that team and they’re not as good defensively this season. Playing out of the No. 4 or 5 hole means they face a bumpy road through the first three rounds against rivals who’ve gotten nastier.
Shaun Powell: Here's the case for the Celtics: They were a game away from going last year without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. They also might have the best eight-man unit in the East. Kyrie Irving is a proven big-shot maker and Brad Stevens will not get outcoached. The case against Boston: This season's been too inconsistent and the trend could reappear and spook them. Hayward still hasn't returned to form, Al Horford is slipping and they don't have a bonafide defensive answer for Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo.
John Schuhmann: The case for is strong. The Celtics have a talented, versatile and experienced nine-man rotation that can match up with any team. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid are the two best players in the Eastern Conference, and Al Horford outplayed them both in the 2018 playoffs. The Celtics have had a top-five defense and the top-ranked clutch offense (having scored an incredible 130 points per 100 possessions with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime). Kyrie Irving is one of the league's best late-game bucket-getters.
The case against starts with the competition, because there are three other teams in the East that are capable of getting to The Finals. The Celtics have owned the Sixers over the last two seasons, but if Boston remains in the No. 4 vs. 5 matchup, they would have a tough first-round series against the Indiana Pacers and(if they got through that) then face the Bucks. Milwaukee has been the best team in the East from Day 1, it ranks in the top three in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and is 9-4 against the other teams in the East's top five.
The Celtics themselves can be too dependent on jump shots. They rank 29th in free throw rate and 27th in the percentage of their shots that have come from the restricted area. They were held under a point per possession in losses in Milwaukee and Toronto right after the All-Star break. And speaking of playing in Milwaukee and Toronto, the Celtics will probably be starting the conference semifinals and conference finals (if they get there) on the road, where they were 1-7 in last year's playoffs. The one road win come because Marco Belinelli's shoes were a half size too big.
Sekou Smith: The easy answer on both counts would be Kyrie Irving. He's the key to the Celtics' championship hopes this season (no matter what anyone says) and he's playing at a high level at the right time for a team drafting its way toward the postseason. But if he can't take it to that next level as the No. 1 guy for the entire playoffs -- something we have never seen him do -- folks won't have to look far for a scapegoat for what doomed the Celtics' season. It's a ton of responsibility to put on one player, of course. But isn't this the load he wanted when he requested his trade from Cleveland? He wanted to be the catalyst for a team poised to do exactly what the Celtics hope to be the cusp of accomplishing.