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Are The Boston Celtics A Legitimate Contender In The Eastern Conference?

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a long five years of LeBron and his teammates in the finals, is this finally the year where things will change?

With a record of 32-23, the Boston Celtics have slowly gained massive momentum heading into the All-Star Break. Their starting lineup has an average age of 25.6, and yet this group of young stars sit in third place in the Eastern Conference standings. Since the end of the big three era, the Celtics have been in rebuild mode. It appears that period may be over. Going 40-42 last season and earning the seventh seed in the East was a big step forward for the C’s, and they have carried over that momentum from last season to this one. 

There are a lot of factors as to why the Celtics have progressed this season, but there is one piece that drastically increased the talent of the team. At last season’s trade deadline, the Celtics traded away Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first round draft pick for their now superstar point guard Isaiah Thomas. Drafted in 2011 as “Mr. Irrelevant”, the 5‘9 PG has easily surpassed any expectations he had going into his career. 

 David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas has been putting up solid numbers since day one. In his rookie season with the Sacramento Kings he averaged 11.5 PPG in 25.5 MPG, but this was only the beginning for the kid out of the University of Washington. In the 2013-2014 season, he averaged a then career high of 20.4 PPG, all in the shadow of DeMarcus Cousins. That season was also a contract year for Thomas, and decided after that season to take his talents to the Phoenix Suns. Thomas’ limited stay in the desert was the low point of his career, as he had to take on the sixth man role because of the Suns starting point guard Eric Bledsoe.

Once Thomas landed in Boston, a sense of optimism and excitement started to build up around TD Garden. This season he is averaging 21.5 PPG (a career high), 6.6 APG, a PER of 21.39, and his first all-star game appearance.

If you glance at the Celtics’ starting five, no names particularly stick out or are household names, but that’s what makes this Celtics team interesting. Twelve out of the 15 players on the active roster average double-digit minutes.

 Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

In today’s NBA, depth is a major component to a team’s success. The NBA’s best team, the Golden State Warriors, have one of the best benches in the NBA (not to mention the best player as well). It’s a pretty simple method to use, the more high quality players you have, the more likely you are to be a good team.

Unlike Steve Kerr who was essentially handed the keys to a new Lamborghini and told to drive as fast he could, Brad Stevens was given a much tougher task. Hired in 2013, Stevens was the first building block in the Celtics’ rebuilding campaign. 

To say that he has done a good job is an understatement. Going from mid-major powerhouse Butler to the NBA is a very difficult  task, and here he is, as the second youngest coach in the NBA (39), and has put together a lineup of late first and second round draft choices that has resulted in a 32-23 record. He as a coach, and the Celtics as a team, have gotten progressively better each year, and they are now here to show off their guns for the rest of the league. 

However, one major question remains.  Do the Celtics have any kind of opportunity to take down the Cleveland Cavaliers? This seems to be the question that we all ask every single year in the Eastern Conference. It’s LeBron’s Cavs/Heat and then there is always one other team that is doing well, but to no one’s surprise, they fall to LeBron. Whether it’s the Chicago Bulls from 2010-2012, the Indiana Pacers from 2012-2014, or the Atlanta Hawks in 2015, LeBron always has the upper hand.

The Celtics faced off against the Cavs in last years’ playoffs, and played a lot better than most people thought they would. They were swept, but fought hard in every game and showed promise. Another thing to consider is that because they are such a young team, a handful of the Celtics’ players had never experienced the crazy rodeo that is the playoffs. Isaiah Thomas, Jared Sullinger, and Marcus Smart were all in the playoffs for the first time.

The way in which the Eastern Conference is panning out we may see a Cavs vs. Celtics Eastern Conference Finals. As much as I’d love to see a new “king” be crowned in the East, it just simply isn’t the Celtics’ time yet. In terms of looking at roster depth, the Celtics absolutely take the title on that, but the trio of James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love would be just too much. The talent of the Cavs’ big three is greater than or equal to the depth of the Celtics. Not to mention, one of those three is LeBron. 

I strongly believe that if the Cavs and Celtics were to meet up in the Eastern Conference Finals, the series would be very close. These Celtics remind me a lot of the 2010-2012 Bulls. They have a star point guard (Thomas), an excellent two-way player (Jae Crowder), a fantastic coach (Stevens), and tremendous depth. But just like how the Bulls fell short, the Celtics will do just the same, for now.

 David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

With the Bulls, we can only play the “what if” game. But with the Celtics, it’s a different story. They have all of these pieces in place to make a run towards a championship. They simply need more time and experience in order to take down LeBron. As long as they can stay healthy and keep the positive environment that Stevens has established, the sky is the limit for this team. It will be only a short period of time until we see the 18th banner up in TD Garden. 

Edited by Jeremy Losak, Julian Boireau.

SQuiz
Brad Stevens is one of the two coaches under 40 in the NBA. Who is the other?
Created 2/9/16
  1. Erik Spoelstra
  2. David Joerger
  3. Tyronn Lue
  4. Frank Vogel

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