Following a comfortable 120-106 win over Milwaukee in game two, the Boston Celtics are primed for an unexpectedly deep playoff run.
“We’re confident as ever,” Jaylen Brown said after scoring a career-high 30 points. “Teams have been writing us off all year and we just keep proving people wrong so that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Celtics are exceptionally well prepared and Brad Stevens’ in-game adjustments and play calling are arguably the best in the league.
They don’t appear short on star power either.
Brown showed glimpses of his potential in last year’s postseason but this year he appears to have made the leap.
He was outstanding from the start in game two, becoming the youngest Celtic to score 30 in the playoffs.
And the pieces around him seem to be fitting together better than ever.
Now the question is, even without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, is this year’s Boston team better than last season?
And do they have a better chance to get to the NBA finals?
Flashback to Boston’s 2017 playoff run
This time last year, the Celtics were staring down a shock first round playoff defeat to an eighth-seeded Chicago Bulls team that barely made the postseason.
Down 2-0, many believe if Rajon Rondo didn’t get hurt the Celtics would’ve have been eliminated.
They managed to get through that series but were taken to the brink of elimination by a Washington Wizards squad lacking depth. Their reliance on 5´9 point guard Isaiah Thomas was also unsustainable. Especially on the defensive end.
And when they got to the eastern conference final they faced a three-headed monster in Cleveland.
At least this year Irving isn’t going against them.
Those 21 points in the third quarter of game four effectively closed the door on Boston´s chances in 2017, turning an 11 point deficit into a seven point lead. They lost the game 112-99 and went on to lose the series 4-1.
So what are the key differences this year?
Let’s look at who is getting minutes this year compared to last season, with the current squad members listed first.
Second-year Jaylen Brown vs rookie Jaylen Brown
Jayson Tatum vs Avery Bradley
Marcus Morris vs Jae Crowder
Aron Baynes vs Amir Johnson/Gerald Green
Terry Rozier vs Isaiah Thomas
Greg Monroe vs Kelly Olynyk
Al Horford vs Al Horford
Shane Larkin vs Marcus Smart (currently injured)
It’s fairly clear this year’s squad is significantly deeper.
Although it must be pointed out just how incredible Isaiah Thomas was last year, a genuine top five MVP candidate.
But this team has balance, and they don’t need to hide Rozier on defence like they did with IT last year.
The other significant difference this time around is the competition in the east.
Cleveland is a long long way off where they were last year and Boston’s two possible second round opponents are untested in the postseason (Philadelphia and Miami).
So that leaves Toronto. And they certainly deserve the favourite tag. They cruised to their own 2-0 lead, disposing easily of Washington in game two. But they do not have anyone nearly as as good as 2017 LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
Boston’s players certainly carry the ‘nobody believes in us’ mentality and it has served them well so far.
It may well take them all the way to the NBA Finals.
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