Take a quick look at today’s date and look at who’s atop the Eastern Conference. Hint, its not LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
For the first time since November of 2015 the Cavaliers are no longer the top seed.
A new challenger has emerged that will try and dethrone the King. The Boston Celtics are back atop the standings and are starting to hit their stride and get healthy at the most opportune time.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Celtics (48 wins – 26 losses), according to ESPN stats and info, are in sole possession of top in the conference this late in a season for the first time since 2007-2008 when they won the title.
Not saying the Celtics are going out and winning the title this year but they are a team that’s quietly flown under the radar as a top team in the NBA. They hardly get mentioned as a legitimate title contender as most of that attention goes to the Warriors, Spurs, and Cavaliers. Most have pegged this season as a three team race for the title but the Celtics have shown the capabilities of hanging with the Cavs all season and now have surpassed them in the standings.
With a healthy starting five of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Al Horford, the Celtics have posted a 26-8 record (.765%). A pace that would far exceed them as the East’s best team if they were completely healthy throughout the year.
Injuries and ailments have caused Thomas to miss 6 games, Bradley 25 games, Crowder 10 games and Horford 14 games yet here they are through 74 games atop the conference.
A true testament to the brilliance of coaching by Brad Stevens and credit to Danny Ainge for building a roster with depth to survive the injuries.
Isaiah Thomas has become a NBA MVP candidate and there has not been a single player all season who’s been better than him in the 4th quarter. The extra gear, Thomas has kicked in during crunch time is historic.
Al Horford has overcome his early season concussions and is averaging 16 points, 9 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game over his last 5 outings. A positive trend heading into the postseason.
Marcus Smart and this seasons third overall pick Jaylen Brown lead a highly athletic bench duo capable of defending multiple positions on the floor. Kelly Olynyk provides a floor spacing stretch 5 capable of swinging a game with his ability to score off the bench.
Most criticized Ainge for failing to add a player at the deadline citing the teams rebounding issues in the front court. However, no move may be the best move as adding a player may have disrupted some team chemistry.
The team plays very unselfishly averaging 25 assists per game good for 4th in the league. They are a match up nightmare for the Cavaliers who are currently in the midst of ongoing defensive struggles. In the earlier match ups this year, the Celtics posted 122, 118 and 103 points. Granted, they dropped two of the three games but with a healthy Bradley, Crowder, Smart and Brown they will have the capable defenders to throw at Lebron over the course of a series to try and slow him down as much as possible.
Not a single other team can provide four wing defenders with the ability to guard LeBron James. Not saying it’ll happen but the Celtics have the necessary foundation to unseat the Cavs. A pivotal game 7 with the NBA finals on the line could provide a huge boost to this Celtics team.
The Celtics have arrived back to their perennial standards and it’s time for the NBA to take notice.
With more accumulated draft picks and cap space on the way, the Celtics expect to be a legitimate contender for years to come.
-all statistics used from basketballreference.com unless otherwise noted.