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The Rise of the Boston Celtics: A Championship Contender in the Making

The future of the NBA was going to change completely on the first play of the seventh game between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat, in the last conference finals. Jayson Tatum’s injury left Joe Mazzulla’s team with no chance of reaching the finals and left Boston’s team without winning the ring for another season. The last one arrived in 2008, 15 years ago. And one more year left at the gates, without the final objective, created a need for urgency in the team. Just a month later, Marcus Smart was sent to Memphis in exchange for Kristaps Porzingis. On October 1 they traded Jrue Holiday for Robert Williams and Malcolm Brogdon.

Almost six months have passed and the Celtics are the best team in the NBA, with a wide difference from the second. They lead the East with eight games over Cleveland, which they won the tiebreaker, and they have the best record in the competition with five games ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves. They have the third best defense in the league, the best offense in history (121.1 points per 100 possessions) and a differential of 10.3 points, the tenth highest seen in the NBA and the fourth in this century, just by behind the dynasty Warriors. The 78.9% win rate is the twenty-fourth best figure in the NBA and yet, despite all this data, there is a cloud of doubt about whether this team can win the ring.

The Boston Celtics have played in the conference finals four times in Jayson Tatum’s six full seasons in the NBA. Since 2018, in their rookie year and when they sent the Cleveland Cavaliers to a seventh game, they have been regulars in the last conference series, and only once have they been able to reach the finals. In 2020 it was Miami in the bubble, in 2022 the finals against Golden State and last year the Heat again. Even the year before Tatum they lost in the conference finals to LeBron James, this time 4-1. No one has played more playoff games in these six years than Boston (94), but while the rest of the top-5 all have at least one ring, except Miami, the Celtics remain scoreless. Losing series where they have been superior to the rival or should have won.

That’s why the doubt in these Celtics. Because it doesn’t matter what they can do in the regular season, where they are the second team with the most wins since 2017 only behind Milwaukee, to convince that they can move the game to the title series. That they are capable of, after passing the first round and the conference semifinals, taking the final step. Although they have the best record against opponents at over 50% and have a combined record of 17-5 against the other seven teams in playoff positions in the Eastern Conference. Although they have not lost consecutive games since November, in Minnesota first and Philadelphia the second. And that brings us back to the series against Miami, last May.

In those conference finals, Erik Spoelstra far surpassed Joe Mazzulla on the benches. The variety of the Heat’s defenses, from the zone to the switch system, with names like Bam Adebayo hindering Boston’s attack, brought to light a flat attack. When the three-pointers didn’t go in, the Boston Celtics ran out of ideas, and with the zone collapsed, it was impossible to find easy points. They found themselves down 0-3 in the series, and forced the seventh from defense (Miami averaged 99 in losses and 116.3 in wins), but without Tatum healthy it was a mission destined to fail. That is why they went for Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday in the summer, to make up for the team’s two main shortcomings.

The arrival of the Latvian has opened a range of offensive possibilities that Boston had never had in the Brad Stevens era, neither as a coach nor as an executive. A player capable of scoring with the efficiency of Porzingis in the post has launched the Celtics’ offensive system to another level, the highest offensive ratio in history. There is only one play in the entire NBA more efficient than Porzingis with his back to the basket: a pick and roll between Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner, finished on the inside (1.44 points per possession compared to Porzingis’ 1.40 in post-up) . Nobody scores more in the post than the Celtics, 5.9 ahead of Jokic’s Nuggets. And their attraction of defense has freed up shooters to the point of being the team that scores the most in catch and shoot, with 35.6 points per game.

The middle name is Jrue Holiday, and his arrival has partly solved the Celtics’ problem closing out games. For years, Boston has had the tendency to stop playing its basketball when the game gets tight, going on to play one-on-one, one-on-one basketball. This season, Boston is the second team with the most victories in the clutch and the third best record, with almost 70% of tied games won. Partly because of the former Bucks point guard, who comes with the experience of having been champion in 2021. Holiday has the second best differential in clutch situations, only behind the omnipresent Derrick White. He doesn’t lead in any category, but with him on the track, in the clutch, they all improve. He also fulfills Smart’s role on defense.

Just for the arrival of both, Brad Stevens deserves the award for best executive of the year. The arrival of two impact starters is the umpteenth success of the Boston Celtics manager, but once again, it will be June who will dictate the sentence. If this team doesn’t make it to the Finals and finally wins the ring, it will be time to ask some very uncomfortable questions in Boston. On the contrary, if banner 18 arrives at TD Garden, let that defeat against Miami be remembered as the turning point in the project.

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2024-02-26 07:29:55
#Boston #Celtics #team #NBA #raise #doubts

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