Boston Celtics Playoff Preview


Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

John Murray, Staff Writer

As the NBA playoffs come near, The Boston Celtics are looking to claim Banner 18. The Celtics are coming off a devastating loss in the NBA Finals last year, losing in six games to the Golden State Warriors. However they are looking for revenge, and with the Warriors out of the picture, Boston has become the favorite of many experts to win the championship. 

Although many people believe the Celtics are the best team, many X-Factors will be needed to win the championship. The first question mark for the Celtics is head coach Joe Mazzula. Last year the Celtics employed Ime Udoka, who was fired due to circumstances that remain unclear. Mazzula’s season so far has had its positives and negatives, but one thing remains constant, his love for three-point shots. The Celtics have attempted the most threes by a team this season at 42.5 per game. At the start of the season, this worked perfectly as the Celtics held a hot hand from three. However, as the season progressed, the three-ball was not falling, and the Celtics went on a cold stretch. The new head coach has garnered a lot of criticism for two reasons. The first of which is the success of last year’s head coach Ime Udoka. The former point guard led the Celtics to the finals after the team was 23-23 in January. Udoka installed a relentless defense that pressured opposing shooters to miss their shots. That leads to the next criticism of the disappearance of the Celtics’ generational defense. The Celtics brought back all of their key players, with their only notable departure being Daniel Theis, and yet their great defense is gone. Last year the Celtics’ Defensive Rating was 106.2 (Defensive Rating is a statistic where a lower number is better). Now their Defensive Rating is 110.6. This is not a sign of a bad defense, just significant regression from the prior season. The only place to point the blame is the coaching change to an offensive-minded Mazzula. This postseason, Joe Mazzula will try to prove that he is one of the premier coaches in the NBA.  

Another factor in a possible Celtics run is the play of their best players. Although Jayson Tatum objectively had a great run to the finals, his play in the heralded series left much to be desired. Junior Charlie Niehoff believes that, “Tatum has learned from his experience in the finals and will overcome his past woes”. Tatum has put up an MVP-caliber season that saw him reach new heights in his already prolific career. However, as Tatum gained more media recognition, his side-kick Jaylen Brown felt that he hadhas been left out of the spotlight. It’s hard to blame the all-star, who stepped-up in last year’s finals but still does not receive the credit that he believes he deserves. With Brown’s contract up at the end of next year, the postseason is a great place to prove that he can be the number one option on an NBA roster.  

The last obstacle in the Celtics’ way is the stacked Eastern conference. Their most likely first-round matchup is against the Miami Heat. Junior Max Moriates believes that, “the Heat is the Celtics’ toughest out in the playoffs”. Last year the Heat were four points from sending the Celtics home in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, the Heat have seen massive regression from last year dropping from the number one seed, all the way down to the Play-In game with no guarantee of the playoffs. The Heat is still a threat and not a team anybody wants to see in the first round. The next team the Celtics would likely have to play is the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers have former MVP James Harden, 2023 MVP front runner Joel Embiid and many great role players. Embiid is a matchup nightmare and both he and Harden get to the free-throw line with ease. However, over the last few years, the Celtics have the Sixers number, sweeping them in 2020, and they are 4-1 in the last five games. In the East, there is one team that everybody has to go through, the Milwaukee Bucks. Last year the Celtics and Bucks went to seven games in an exhausting and stress-worthy series. The Bucks are led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, a once-in-a-generation talent from Greece. Giannis led the Bucks to the championship in 2021 and lost to the Celtics the next year. However, the Bucks will have a home-court advantage in this series, which makes a huge difference in the playoffs. The Bucks and Celtics have been fighting for the best record until the Bucks slingshotted into first with a 16-game win streak. This year the Western Conference is as weak as it’s ever been, a Celtics vs. Bucks Eastern Conference Finals would feel like a Finals series.

Barring injuries, the Celtics are poised to avenge their finals loss last year and make a deep playoff run. The people of Boston have been ringless since 2019, and the Celtics themselves have the longest drought, not winning since 2008, now is the time to break the tie with the Lakers and hang banner 18.