In a tight game against Indiana, who could potentially be a first round match-up, the Boston Celtics escaped with a 114-111 win which clinches them a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They are the fourth team in the NBA to do so, behind the Bucks and Raptors in the East and the Lakers in the West. This will be their sixth playoff appearance in a row under head coach Brad Stevens.
The Celtics were led by first time All-Star Jayson Tatum, who tallied up 30 points on 50% shooting along with 4 steals on the defensive end. Gordon Hayward contributed another 27 points and 10 rebounds.
Domantas Sabonis, another first time All-Star and budding star, led the Pacers with 28 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists while shooting 13-23 from the field. Victor Oladipo had one of his best games after returning from his year long injury hiatus posting 27 points on an efficient 9-16, including 5-7 from three.
Many people are wondering if the Celtics are dark horse title contenders this season. I ask, does it matter?
Jayson Tatum has blossomed into an All-Star, with Jaylen Brown right on his heels. They both have the potential to become the most potent two-way combo in the league, overtaking the aging and injury-battling Clippers stars. Gordon Hayward is starting to play like the player the C’s traded for and Kemba Walker is displaying the kind of leadership the franchise has been looking for in order to continue developing their young players.
If we want to analyze them, Boston does have a chance at contention if everything falls into place. Tatum and Brown have shown that they can defend at a very high level. We have yet to see Cardiac Kemba seriously unleashed in the NBA playoffs. Marcus Smart is another two-way guard that can give players fits on both ends of the court. I also believe that Brad Stevens is a championship caliber coach, capable of make the necessary adjustments to challenge the league leading Milwaukee Bucks with the right strategy.
However, there are concerns that despite his extraordinary hustle and heart, Daniel Theis is not a traditional enough center to anchor a championship team through a seven game series. Joel Embiid is likely to make some postseason noise, as well as reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Those are two key match-ups that will be very difficult to handle.
The Celtics have also struggled a little as of late, with a worrisome tendency of blowing double digits leads starting to develop. Playoff games also depend on clutch play, which can be a bit of a question mark for Boston down the line. Does Kemba take the final shot of a one possession game, or does Tatum? Stevens might even run a play for Hayward for all I know. But, are any of them ready to take on that challenge?
No matter what, Celtics fans, there is no need to fear. The future looks bright. Be ready for some exciting basketball in the coming years, whether or not a ring comes along in 2020.
Featured Photo Credit: USA Today Sportsbook Wire
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