If there was ever going to be a challenger to the throne that the Golden State Warriors have comfortably rested upon for the past several years, it will be the 2018-2019 Boston Celtics. Think of Boston’s accomplishments in the 2018 NBA playoffs as something of an appetizer, for an incredible main course that’s yet to come.
Let’s take nothing away from what Boston has done so far. Even as the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, many people wrote off the Celtics as an afterthought when they lost superstar point guard Kyrie Irving to a season-ending injury. They became a trendy pick to get upset in the first round of the playoffs (against the 7th-seeded Milwaukee Bucks), and very few people believed they would be able to defeat what was considered to be the hottest team in the NBA coming into the playoffs (the Philadelphia 76ers).
Yet, amidst all those detractors, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens – who now, even more, looks like he was robbed of the NBA’s Coach of the Year award – has taken his team full of prodigious young wings and savvy veterans deep into the playoffs. Along the way, they’ve defeated a team with a top five NBA player (Giannis Antetokounmpo), and a team that has two of the NBA’s most tantalizing young players (Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons).
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Regardless of how they finish this postseason, here’s the subplot that very few people are talking about: shouldn’t the Boston Celtics be considered the favorite to win the NBA Championship outright next year?
If nothing else, they’ll be the best team in the Eastern Conference, and probably by a mile. Even if LeBron James remains with the Cleveland Cavaliers, barring a near miraculous improvement to that lineup, they won’t be nearly as deep and talented as Boston.
Philadelphia looks like they still have growing pains to endure. Toronto may take a step back, depending on what they do this offseason. Past that, is there a team who can realistically compete with Boston? After all, we’ll be looking at a team that’s adding Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to a Celtics lineup that won two playoff series without those guys. Boston has virtually every core member of its rotation under contract next season, except Smart. What the Celtics do with him this summer will be worth watching closely, as his exuberance and passion on the court are a huge part of what makes up the intangibles of this team.
In what could be one of the most fascinating debates of this upcoming offseason, whether Boston’s “big four” of Irving, Hayward, Horford, and Tatum is better than the lethal “big four” of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson will be an oft-discussed matter. And even if you do side with the the Warriors in said debate, the fact that Boston still has guys like Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Morris coming off the bench is comically better than the ever-thinning bench of the Warriors.
The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, and maybe the Houston Rockets, remain the headliner of this year’s playoffs. But next year, we could very well be talking about the Boston Celtics as the premier attraction.