I remember watching the Super Bowl last year, and the Atlanta Falcons were up 28-3 on the New England Patriots late in the third quarter and I was convinced it was over. They probably started wheeling the barrels full of champagne on ice to the Falcons locker room, the talking heads were ready to write Tom Brady's obituary on his career, and Bill Belichick's agent was probably already on the phone with the New York Giants for a coaching vacancy. Then, it happened. Belichick and Brady mounted an unbelievable comeback and won the first overtime game in Super Bowl history. Now imagine having to play an entire season with their backs against the wall, that is what their Boston basketball counterpart has been hit with, and they are looking to come out on top in a similar dramatic fashion.
The Boston Celtics have overcome every obstacle in their way, and have found themselves in the 2 seed faced off against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. The offseason for the Celtics was a championship in and of itself, they added Kyrie Irving through trade and signed free agent Gordon Hayward. But in the first game of the season, Hayward broke his leg in a pretty gruesome injury and a lot of people thought their season ended right then and there. Then Kyrie went on an beautiful stretch of high level basketball for the first few months of the season and was even in many MVP discussions. Late in the season, Kyrie had to get minimally invasive surgery on his knee and it has sidelined him for the rest of the year.
Yet, the Celtics still find themselves in prime position for an NBA Finals run and answered their first test in an overtime contest in Game 1 win against the Bucks. Terry Rozier showed that he can fill in for Kyrie's place and be enough of a playmaker to give his team a chance all the way until the final buzzer. Al Horford proved his worth while letting the world know he is now the key piece on this team, as he is now the clear cut leader of this squad. Their stellar defense shut Giannis Antetokounmpo down for all but the final few minutes of the fourth quarter. They will continue to play with grit in this series in will win in 5 games.
The Philadelphia 76ers look ready to win their first round matchup and are destined to play the Celtics in the second round. When we talk about the best rebuilds in basketball in the past decade, this series will display the two top teams on that list. The youth and athleticism of both teams will create for some incredible basketball. The difference will be in the minds of the coaches. Brett Brown has seemed to be one step ahead of his opponents every night, but Brad Stevens plays the game like chess. Stevens gets the most out of every player he has on his roster, making guys like Guerschon Yabusele, Semi Ojeleye, and Daniel Theis play above their ceiling. The use of his many bigs will wear down Joel Embiid and will force guys like Richaun Holmes and Ersan Ilyasova to play big minutes. With a strategic gameplay to limit Ben Simmons playmaking opportunities, Stevens will coach his team to a grueling Game 7 victory which will put them back in the Eastern Conference Finals for a second straight year.
The rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Finals will be set when the Cleveland Cavaliers fight their way through two 7 game series' to get there. Lebron James will have to carry the entire load to get his team here, but it won't be enough against this Celtics team. The Cavs have been one of the worst defensive teams all season, and the way the Celtics share the ball and get open three point shots will be too much for them to handle. The Celtics were 2nd in the NBA in three point percentage, and the efficient shooting of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will lead to some high scoring games. The Celtics and their 4th best scoring defense will hold every other player on the Cavs to single digit scoring averages and will hold them to under 100 points in every win. The ghosts of Celtics past will haunt Lebron the night before the game and he will miss the series winning shot, and his streak of Finals runs will end.
The recurring theme here is that the Celtics have one of the best coaches in the game, and he will be tested when his team faces the Houston Rockets and one of the most innovative coaches in the game in Mike D'antoni. The gameplan will be to double and triple team James Harden early in possessions and force him to give up the ball to his teammates. The Rockets will hit their shots, but with the limited amount of opportunities given to Harden, too much of the burden will be placed on spot up shooters. The Rockets were 19th in the NBA in rebounds per game, whereas the Celtics were 8th. The recent acquisition of Greg Monroe will prove to be a key move that will ultimately help the Celtics get all the second chance points they need to match the Rockets basket for basket.
Four of the five starters will average double digit scoring figures, Marcus Smart will get his health back and will play key minutes off the bench, and Al Horford will average a solid 20 points per game and will be the Finals MVP. Brad Stevens will prove to the world why he is the best coach in the game and of the future. With the healthy addition of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward over the offseason, the Celtics will look to be the first team to three-peat since the Shaq and Kobe Lakers.
Jaylen Brown is niiiiicceee...
Just a man trying to make the most of his time on this planet.