Updated: Jul 31, 2020
By: Matthew Schlegel
Just before the shutdown, the Boston Celtics were sitting comfortably in the 3 spot in the east with a record of 43-21. Kemba Walker was proving to be a great fit for the team both on and off the court, Jayson Tatum was in the midst of an absolute breakout season while the rest of the team followed suit. Without fans or any need for teams to travel, the importance of seeding has undoubtedly been minimized and as a result, the playoffs are as wide open as they have ever been. While most complaints regarding no fans have had more to deal with the viewing experience than the actual basketball, I don’t think the significance of no home-court advantage has been discussed nearly enough. With a level playing field across the board, here's why I think the Celtics could make a run:
For starters, they absolutely have the talent. Jayson Tatum was playing like a superstar from the opening tip this season and flipped into another gear after the all-star break. He has contributed on both ends of the floor thanks to his unique combination of size, speed, and vision, as well as a newfound aggressiveness that was seemingly lacking a year ago. The part of his game that has really elevated him to the next level is his 3 ball, specifically his pull up/step-back three. After shooting a relatively woeful 37.3% from downtown last year, Tatum shot 43.4% from beyond the arc this season. Between the footwork, the ball fakes, and the absolute butter that is his jump shot, its not unreasonable to call it one of the most difficult shots to defend in the entire league right now. Tatum has given serious buckets to the likes of players such as Paul George, Lebron James, and Anthony Davis, seemingly playing his best ball when the competition is at its highest. While he has just two playoff stints to his name, it is important to note that Tatum is the only NBA player ever to notch at least 400 points, 100 rebounds, and 50 assists in the playoffs before turning 21.
While I am ready to hand Tatum the keys to the franchise, it should be said that he’s not working alone. Kemba is undoubtedly the second piece on this team getting ready to embark on what is ultimately his first real playoff run. The concerns with his knee are ever-present but according to Walker himself, he expects to be fully fit and ready to go. One of the league's best ball handlers with serious young talent around him definitely has already proved to be dangerous, but if you ask how dangerous, that's going to have more to do with the supporting cast. I don’t think you could argue that Tatum and Kemba are the teams best two players, but if the Celtics are really gonna make noise in Orlando I think Jaylen Brown could be the most important piece. After inking a lucrative extension just before the season, many around the league were quick to criticize the Celtic's decision to give Brown over 100 mil. In his first three seasons he showed strong potential on both ends of the floor and often wowed us with his athleticism and strength, but lacked consistency on the offensive end. The C’s were willing to gamble on Brown's potential, and so far it seems to be paying off. Jaylen elevated his game in almost every area, becoming a dangerous three-point threat, strong defensive presence, and lethal midrange shooter. The most glaring improvement is his ball-handling, going into his back of tricks night in and night out and making defenders look silly, especially when showcasing his straight-up nasty hesitation moves.
The Celtics have some depth, but it's those three players that will be the engine of this team going forward. With good young energy coming off the bench, the two true X-factors for Boston in my eyes are Gordon Hayward and Mr. Energy himself, Marcus Smart, but we’ll get to that later in the week.
Part 2 coming soon.