By Jackson Daignault ’18
The Boston Celtics, no matter their level of success, have always been underappreciated. The rhetoric that the Celtics are overrated cause many to believe the Celtics are not “enough” to actually contend in the East.
However, many seem to forget that the Celtics are currently in sole possession of the two seed, and have a very realistic chance to challenge the top dog in the east, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yes, the Cavaliers are not full strength and have lost three of the last five, but that does not take away from the fact that they are the team to beat.
The Celtics’ prime position to dethrone the King of the East is best showcased by their March 1 victory over the Cavaliers in Boston.
The Celtics were able to defeat Lebron James’ Cavs, despite James’ triple double. The Celtics relied heavily on Isaiah Thomas, who finished with 31 points on 10-20 shooting. No sequence, however, defined the growth of the Celtics more than Avery Bradley’s lockdown defense on Kyrie Irving in the final minutes of the game. Throughout the entire game, the hard nosed defense of Bradley, along with Marcus Smart, wreaked havoc on the Cavaliers backcourt without J.R. Smith.
This game proved that the Celtics are ready for the challenge of the Cavs. The Celtics have been plagued by injuries all year long, highlighted by Avery Bradley missing 18 games due to achilles injury. Now that the Celtics are finally 100 percent healthy, they are a force to be reckoned with.
The Celtics will only go as far as Isaiah Thomas will take them, the 5’9 point guard averaging 29.3 points per game. Thomas has been kryptonite for other teams this season, and is in the discussion for MVP. James himself called Thomas a “clear cut star,” and “a guy that you want on your team.” Thomas has absolutely lit it up this season, shooting 46 percent from the field. The Celtics will rely heavily on Thomas’ playmaking and scoring ability if they wish to challenge the Cavs in the East.
Although the Celtics were swept by the Cavaliers in the playoffs two years ago, this current team is a totally different animal.
The biggest offseason move for the Celtics was acquiring former Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford, a three time All-Star. Although Horford does not fill up the stat sheet, his overall affect on the game is apparent every time he steps onto the floor. Horford has a 16.9 player efficiency rating, second on the team. Horford is also one of the best passing big men in the league, averaging close to five assists per game. Horford is very versatile and will be able to match up with any of the Cavaliers’ big men, ranging from Kevin Love (barring he returns), to Tristan Thompson. Since Horford is able to play both the four and the five, he has the lateral quickness to keep up with almost any player on defense. The offense is often run through him when Isaiah is being heavily defended, and he has capitalized, averaging 14 points per game. The addition of Horford was huge for the Celtics, and with his positive impact on the game, they have a better chance at being able to challenge Lebron James and the Cavaliers.
The Celtics are a gritty, hard nosed team that the fans absolutely eat up. No two Celtics represent that grit more than Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. The two are absolute fiends on the perimeter, and opposing guards have a hard time getting past them. The Celtics can match up defensively with almost any team in the East, especially the Cavaliers. Seen earlier, Avery Bradley absolutely ate Kyrie Irving alive on the defensive side of the ball in their March 1 showdown, and he can continue to do so the rest of the season.
With the acquisition of Horford, and the increased scoring from Thomas, the Celtics are a real threat to the Cavaliers’ status as the top dog in the East. The Celtics should no longer be doubted, but instead they should be credited as a real contender to dethrone the King.