The Boston Celtics are now up 2-0 on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Nobody saw this coming – but maybe we should have.
With no Kyrie Irving and no Gordon Hayward, everyone was ready for the Celtics to just limp towards elimination in the playoffs. Yet here they are. They barely made it past Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. They were considered underdogs in the second round against Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and rest of the Philadelphia 76ers, one of the hottest teams in the league. And now, they are up 2-0 on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that handily swept the top-seeded Toronto Raptors in their second round match-up.
Brad Stevens is one of the best coaches in the league today, but he is not coaching a team full of scrubs. If you watch enough of this current Celtics squad (and by now, you should have), you should be able to understand that their success is more than just Stevens outcoaching their opponents. This group of players is special in their own right.
Against the Cavs, the Celtics start five players who can all play both sides of the court. Al Horford is a legitimate star in the league, no matter what his box score averages might say. He is capable of scoring on all three levels, is a deft playmaker, and is the defensive anchor of the team who does all the little things that help a team but don’t show up in the box score. Marcus Morris can actually defend LeBron James. Jayson Tatum is one of the most polished rookies you will ever see. Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier have taken their games at least two levels up throughout the course of this season. All five players are at least above-average athletes for their positions. The Celtics also have one of the NBA’s best pests in Marcus Smart off the bench. All six of these players can also play and defend multiple positions.
One of the biggest cliches used to describe teams without star players is that they are “unpredictable” because you “anyone can step up for the team.” Most of the time, it is used as a backhanded compliment that implies that the team does not have a consistent option to scare the other team. Not for these Celtics. They are literally unpredictable because all five starting players can legitimately take charge of the offense on any given moment and on any given night. Four different players (Horford, Taytum, Brown, and Rozier) have led the team in scoring this postseason. There is no place to hide a weak link on defense against this Celtics team.
Despite not having a traditional “star,” this Celtics team is full of talented prospects who actually panned out as players. Horford, Brown, and Tatum were all third overall draft picks. Marcus Smart was a sixth overall pick. Marcus Morris was drafted 14th overall, and Terry Rozier was 16th overall. Even seldom-used Greg Monroe was a seventh overall pick. We say they are too young and inexperienced, yet Horford, Brown, Smart, and Rozier were all part of last season’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Even without Irving and Hayward, this Celtics team is a lot more talented and advanced than we have given them credit for. With versatile two-way players across the board, Danny Ainge has constructed this team like a Swiss army knife perfect for the modern game. Add Brad Stevens’ brilliant coaching, and the Celtics’ success this season suddenly makes more sense. This Boston team may be overachieving, but not as much as we have underestimated them.