2018 NBA Playoff Preview: Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics had a pretty incredible season when you consider the injuries they had to overcome. Within five minutes of the first game of the season, they lost star acquisition Gordon Hayward to a broken leg that would cost him his season. After that, most experts figured the Celtics would be the four or five seed in the East, finishing with 45-50 wins. Instead, the Celtics finished 55-27, which is even more impressive considering all the other injuries they have faced.
Boston lost Kyrie Irving for the last fifteen games of the season and other key contributors like Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis and to a lesser extent Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford have all missed considerable time with injuries. Boston survived with an excellent defense (second in the league) and Brad Stevens, who deserves serious coach of the year consideration. The injuries caught up with the team towards the end of the season as Boston finished the season 2-4 including a tough loss to the Hawks. Considering all the injuries, they had 55 wins, and the two seed in the East is a surprise and a fantastic accomplishment.
Boston’s biggest strength all season has been their team defense, and it will be again in the playoffs. Their team defense is as sound as any in the league, and they don’t make many mistakes. Al Horford is the quarterback of the defense, and his versatility has put him in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. On the wing with Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris, and Jayson Tatum they are huge, and all three can seamlessly switch across several positions. Marcus Smart when healthy is one of the best, toughest and most versatile defenders. Their biggest strength on defense is limiting opposing threes, finishing first in the league in defending the three ball.
On offense, their strength is also the three ball, as they finished second in the league in three-point percentage.
The offense of the Boston Celtics has not been great this season. They don’t get a lot of easy points as they finished 22nd in offensive rebounds and 20th in free throw rate. Boston finished 18th in offense, so they're not awful, but there are concerns in the playoffs without Kyrie to bail them out if they cannot find a good shot. The Celtics also struggled to finish at the rim, finishing 28th in the league. They don’t have a lot of penetrators, and teams will hug the shooters in the playoffs and force them to put it on the floor.
They are much better in the half court finishing 10th in points per play; they struggle more in transition finishing 24th in points per play. This goes back to their inability to get easy points, their defense is 12th in forcing turnovers, and the Celtics do a pretty good job of capitalizing on them, but besides that everything is hard for Boston’s offense.
The player that is the biggest x-factor is Terry Rozier. Rozier is filling in for Irving and will have to shoulder a more significant offensive load than he is used to. The good news is in March after Kyrie went down Rozier averaged 17.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. In the last four games, he was not as good, but that was partly due to injury, he didn’t play in the last game of the season to rest his finger, but he is reported to be ready for game one. Rozier is a good player, who can get hot and score. In the playoffs, not only will he have to score, but he will also have to be efficient and decisive.
For the team, their x-factor will be hitting threes on offense. It is their biggest strength and teams will try to take them away. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will be needed. Brown was at 39.5% for the season and Tatum was at 43.4%. If Boston’s threes are not falling, then their offense is in serious trouble, and it might be an early exit from the playoffs.
Besides Rozier, an under the radar player to watch is Greg Monroe. Monroe will be fired up to play his old team, but he has always been tough to play in the playoffs. This should be a good matchup for him, as Milwaukee doesn’t have enough shooting to run him off the floor. He will come off the bench and likely be matched up with Tyler Zeller, a matchup he can handle and exploit. Boston will need any offense it can get and will run some of the second unit’s offense through Monroe. Monroe needs to deliver inside, rebound and set up his teammates to keep the second unit flowing. On the other end as long as he is not a liability he should be fine, Boston has enough perimeter defenders to protect him. I predict a good series for Monroe.
Boston should win this series against the Bucks. I think they win in six. Giannis is the best player in the series and will have some big games, but Milwaukee is too undisciplined to win this series, even with Boston banged up. In the second round, the Celtics will likely be matched up with the Sixers, and that is likely where they will go down. Even with home court advantage, the Sixers are so good defensively that the Celtics will struggle to score. Boston will give Philly all they can handle, but their lack of firepower will be their downfall. It is possible they win, but I see Boston out in the second round.