Boston Celtics 2020 Playoff Preview
When the Celtics lost Kyrie Irving and Al Horford the NBA world was predicting a fall off for this young team. Boston, true to their identity, thrived on their underdog status and put together one of the best offensive seasons in franchise history. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown took a huge step in their development and the Kemba Walker meshed well with the rest of the roster, which turned Boston into the offensive juggernaut they were supposed to be last year. While everyone was praising this team for how well they played during the regular season, the real season starts now. Boston comes into these playoffs relatively healthy, something that they've rarely been this season. This is their chance to cement themselves as the team of the future and the present with a deep playoff run.
Boston's biggest strength is their offensive depth, they are the only team to have three 20-point per game scorers and that scoring ability could push the Celtics all the way to the championship. Another strength of this team is its ability to be a flexible defensive unit. Boston, led by Tatum and Marcus Smart, are 4th in the NBA in defensive rating and have 3 6’8 wings that can grind even the best offenses to a halt. While Boston's offense and defense are spectacular, they have an even more overwhelming advantage: Brad Stevens is the best coach in basketball. He has consistently got his team ready to play in big games especially when outmatched talent-wise.
Boston’s weakness has the potential to derail another promising season. The first weakness is obviously the center position. While Daniel Theis has been much better than anybody could have predicted, his lack of size will be an issue for the few low post bruisers in the league. This issue will need to be addressed soon because Joel Embid and the Philadelphia 76ers are the first matchups. If Theis can limit one of the best centers in the NBA, Boston will make quick work of the short-handed 76ers and be one step closer to having to do it all over again with Marc Gasol. When you're as small as the Celtics are, every matchup comes with the potential to be exposed in the paint. The second weakness is a bit easier to a dress: Boston has an extremely weak bench. Brad Wannamaker, Enes Kanter, and the rest of the non-Marcus Smart bench players need to provide value to take the pressure off of Boston's stars.
While Tatum, Brown, and Walker get the headlines with their 20 points, Gordon Hayward is the biggest X-Factor for this team. His ability to be a secondary ball-handler and shooter makes him invaluable to a team with more scorers than playmakers. I expect this team to lean on Hayward’s steady play when Tatum and Walker need to sit. We don't usually discuss legacy for players of Hayward’s caliber but this is huge for the perception of the Hayward contract. This is the healthiest Hayward has been since before his Celtics debut, and a great showing in these playoffs will erase any thoughts of how the first 2 years of his contract were largely wasted on bad health.
Players to Watch
I would keep an eye out for Robert Williams in the playoffs. Brad Stevens has been slowly incorporating him into the lineup and with Kanter’s horrid defense I expect Williams to carve out a great role for himself. His ability to change games with his energy and athleticism is something that can't be replicated by any other member of the roster. The first round will be tough for him, a young player like him will be prone to fouls in big moments and Embid will test him early.
Estimated Playoff Run
The East playoffs will put to the test every lesson the Celtics have learned this year, and they will completely change the conversation around the team. If they go home early there will be questions about if the team is really poised to be the next great NBA team and a deep run or a title will cement Jayson Tatum as a superstar. I see this Boston Celtics team as being a piece away from being the best team in the league but as currently constructed they can beat just about anybody when they're locked in. So I consider Boston as a tier 2 title contender and a threat to come out of the Eastern Conference.