Celtics Lead

The Celtics Are Better Than You Think

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The Boston Celtics are in the midst of one their most dramatic seasons in recent memory. It started on opening night, when the Celtics beat their Eastern Conference rivals, the Philadelphia 76ers, by a resounding 18 points. Following the game, Joel Embiid both expressed his frustration and confirmed the Celtics’ strength by saying, “This is not a rivalry. I don’t know our record against them, but it’s pretty bad. They always kick our ass.”

It’s been four months since that game, and the Celtics’ reputation has drastically changed. The quote following the team’s recent game against the Clippers came not from an opponent, but from forward Marcus Morris.

“I just don’t see the joy in the game,” Morris said.

The Celtics blew a 28-point lead against the Clippers, adding to the up-and-down narrative of their season. Boston has been unable to escape drama this year and the team has suffered because of it. At the beginning of the season, it was Jaylen Brown not fitting in with all the new talent. Then it was Terry Rozier wanting more time. After that, rumors surfaced about unease in the locker room; players have called out Gordon Hayward for being unable to return to his elite status this season. More recently, the trade rumors with the Pelicans have somehow led to questions surrounding Kyrie Irving‘s commitment to Boston.

Finally, it all boiled over when Morris said those words. It’s just not fun anymore, but maybe that’s not Boston’s fault.

Win Total

Coming into the season, the expectations for the Celtics defense were set high. An article on NESN written by Darren Hartwell predicted that the Celtics would finish with the number one defense in the league, as well as the best record in the east at 62-20.

Furthermore, Bill Simmons predicted the Celtics would win 67 games this season, but mysteriously this quote can’t be found anywhere online. The only evidence of the quote is found in the clip below, which shows the Celtics recent blunder against the Clippers.

Since Larry Bird has retired, the Celtics have managed to win 60 games in a season only twice (2008, 2009). No team in the East has won 60 or more games in a season in five years (2015 Atlanta Hawks).

While 60 wins was attainable for the Celtics entering the season, failing to achieve that goal doesn’t make them a bad team. While challenging, the Celtics could still potentially lock up a top two seed in the east to earn home court advantage through the first two rounds at the least.

Defense

Coming into the year, the bar for Boston’s defense was high as well. Many predicted a first place defensive rating for Boston at the end of the regular season. Last year the Celtics finished with a defensive rating of 103.1, second only to the Utah Jazz who finished with a mark of 102.9.

Heading into the all-star break this season, Boston’s defensive rating was 105.7. While this figure is a step back from last year, it’s still good for fifth in the league, making them an elite defensive team. There’s no reason that number can’t improve as the season continues into the second half, and even if it doesn’t, it’s a solid mark to maintain.

Top-Heavy East

Entering the season Boston was expected to run away with the east. That was before the season. With LeBron leaving the east was essentially narrowed down to two or three teams. The Celtics were the heavy favorites, but the Raptors and 76ers looked strong as well. The Celtics don’t face the same small rivals that they did back then.

With new head coach Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks boast the best record in the east through 67 games. The team is just one win away from matching its win total from last season with 25 games still left on the schedule.

The Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard experiment has paid off handsomely, as they remain near the top of the East and look stronger than ever.

The 76ers just made a handful of moves at the trade deadline to bolster their already impressive roster, specifically their starting lineup which is arguably top three in the NBA.

The Pacers, despite the loss of Victor Oladipo, have put together a strong campaign to position themselves favorably in the post-season.

Perhaps most surprising of all are the Nets, who currently own the east’s sixth seed and have already improved their win total from last season by two games. The Nets are a legitimate dark horse to knock off a top team in the east in the first round and have made unimaginable improvements this season, including sending guard D’Angelo Russell to the all-star game.

The Celtics weren’t supposed to face this kind of adversity in the east, which played a large role in predicting their dominance. No NBA season can be perfectly predicted, and this year’s eastern conference is a perfect example of that. While the Celtics haven’t run away with the east this year, they still have the east’s second best in-conference record at 27-10.

Looking Ahead

Boston hasn’t accomplished everything they wanted to at this point in the season, but that doesn’t mean they’re a bad team. They’ve shown an impressive ability to overcome adversity time and time again, which unfortunately receives less attention than the adversities themselves.

The eastern conference looks stronger than it has since perhaps the 2010-2011 season. No team should be considered a runaway favorite right now, and most teams in the playoff picture should be considered legitimate contenders. The Celtics aren’t as dominant as they were predicted to be, but no other team is as weak as they were expected to be either. The eastern conference is wide open, available for whichever team wants it the most, and despite all the drama that includes Boston.

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About Jared Penna

Jared was born and raised in central Massachusetts and is currently studying journalism at Quinnipiac University. Currently writes for TLSM's Celtics Lead branch.

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