2016-17 NBA Season Weekly Recap: Boston Celtics
Even if it lasted only a day (thanks to a home loss to the Bucks on Wednesday night) the Celtics sat atop of the Eastern Conference for the first time in 6 years. When you consider the fact that they are only a couple of seasons removed from winning 20-something games and tanking for a high draft pick, that's a pretty impressive turn around. Ainge has retooled this roster over and over again, and plucked one of college's brightest young coaches from Butler to turn this team into a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs. With a high likelihood of finishing the season with either the #1 or the #2 seed in the East, this has to be the year the Celtics at least make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, right? Wrong.
The odds are strongly in Boston's favor when it comes to first round matchups. Looking at the bottom of the East right now, I have no doubt in my mind that we will be able to handle the likes of the Heat, Pacers, Bulls, or any other potential first round foe. Even the Bucks, who currently sit as the #6 seed, wouldn't be able to go toe-to-toe with us in a 7 game series despite handing us an L last night. But unfortunately, that's where the buck stops (no pun intended). I say this because no matter who the Celtics' 2nd round matchup would be, whether it's the Wizards or the Raptors, they both present terrible matchups for us which would likely be exploited.
If you're even a casual basketball fan, you know that playoff basketball is a whole different game. Teams shorten their lineups to 7 or 8 players, the defensive intensity picks up, the game slows down, and teams become much more gameplan oriented. Two things that are going to give us a lot of trouble that the Wizards and Raptors both have are length and stellar guard play. Aside from the Warriors, these two teams probably have the 2 best backcourts in the NBA with all stars (or borderline all-star in Bradley Beal's case) at both positions. That's all fine and dandy when we have Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart on the court, but our best player and leading scorer needs to be on the court and he happens to be 5'9". Theoretically we could put IT out there with Bradley AND Smart on the court for matchup purposes, but then that slides Crowder to the 4 and our lineup becomes even smaller.
John Wall is going to eat IT for breakfast on the offensive end. Kyle Lowry isn't as explosive, but he'll get his too. Avery Bradley can hold his own against Bradley Beal, but DeMar Derozan's height presents issues for the First Team All Defense SG. So we have major issues in the backcourt and I haven't even touched on the Front Court yet which is even worse. The Wizards front court isn't the scariest thing on paper, but they have depth and just like any other team, they're taller than us. The Raptors front court is a nightmare matchup for us as well. Jonas Valanciunas averages like 50 rebounds in games against the Celtics, and Serge Ibaka (although he's not the player he used to be) is enough of a threat in the paint to limit IT's drives to the rim. We were a terrible rebounding team all season, and these two teams killed us on the boards in our regular season matchups against them.
The worst part of all, and I cringe even thinking about this, is what teams will do to stop IT. All 29 of the other teams in the NBA know that if you stop IT, there's no way we can score. Read this next sentence slowly and carefully. Just last night against the Bucks, the Celtics failed to score a single point in the first half while the All Star PG was on the bench. Pathetic, I know. Teams are going to load up on him, trap him in pick and rolls, double team him, put lengthy defenders on him, the whole 9 yards. So it's a blessing and a curse to have IT, because our best player is also our biggest defensive liability.
This isn't to say that we won't make it to the ECF, because Brad Stevens is the best coach in the East and he could get creative. That's also why we're battling so hard for the 1 or 2 seed because we know that if we don't have home court advantage in the 2nd round, it could get ugly quick. But like I've been saying for months, this team isn't focused on this year. Our season starts in May at the draft lottery, and we may a drastically improved Celtics team by the time next season starts. Is it ECF or bust for us this year? Depends who you ask. But if we plan on getting there, it's going to take the ghost of Red Auerbach to get us there.