Why the Celtics could win the NBA title
Ahead of the NBA playoffs, FoxSports will find the best-case scenario for all 16 qualified teams and make the case for why each could win the title.
The Celtics are probably one elite player away from being a perennial title contender, but in the meantime, they’re one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams because of elite-level coaching, an unassuming star point guard, team length, and perhaps more than thing else: effort, especially on the defensive end of the court.
Even in the new era of NBA analytics, shooting guard Avery Bradley goes underappreciated. Bradley — at 6-foot-2 — is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA.
He’s a pest. He never gives his man an inch to breathe, and his fast hands and excellent floor awareness have resulted in 1.6 steals per game this season.
But Bradley’s doggedness also unlocks an excellent, deep Celtics defense, which switches and hedges with the best in the game.
The Celtics’ roster was built on defensive versatility, which can allow for copious switching — but only if the players on the court enjoy the challenge of constant mismatches. Which, following Bradley’s lead, they absolutely do.
The Celtics are fourth in the NBA in defensive rating, allowing 100 points per 100 possessions. That, combined with the third-fastest pace in the NBA gives the Celtics the ability to control the timbre of a contest. In the playoffs, few things are more important.
The Celtics might be one superstar away from being an annual title contender, but they already have a superstar on their roster in point guard Isaiah Thomas.
In NBA history, only 11 players at 5-foot-9 or under have appeared in more than 100 games, but Thomas, Boston’s 5-foot-9 point guard, is averaging 22 points and 6.3 assists per game in his first full year in Boston, establishing himself as the team’s offensive heartbeat and go-to scorer in the clutch.
Thomas is hardly the most efficient scorer in the NBA, and he doesn’t boast an incredible arsenal of unstoppable offensive moves, but he plays with a chip on his shoulder and is never afraid of a moment.
The Washington product has the ability to take over games and turn the contest into a one-on-one showdown with an opposing guard, another trick that is well-suited for the playoffs.
Underestimate Thomas at your own peril, Celtics opponents — the little man will take you out with no remorse.
The Celtics might be the second-best team in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics might be the seventh-best team in the Eastern Conference.
The standings change daily heading into the final calendar week of the season, but the fact remains that the Celtics are more than capable of winning the Eastern Conference and reaching the NBA Finals.
The super-switching defense of the defense is sure to give the Cleveland Cavaliers fits, should the two meet (the Warriors turned around the NBA Finals by moving to a super-switching smallball last summer) and the Celtics could control the pace against a team — Cleveland — that needs to be in control to win.
The Celtics were the first team to beat the Warriors at home this season earlier in April, and they have played the Spurs and Thunder well this season too.