The Boston Celtics have locked up the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference as the NBA inches closer to the 2019-20 postseason.
Boston has been one of the better teams since the NBA restarted its season on July 30. The Celtics have gone 5-3 through their first eight games, with their only losses coming to the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat and Washington Wizards.
However, luckily for Boston, it will avoid the Bucks and Heat until the Eastern Conference Finals, as the Bucks will be the No. 1 seed while Miami finished the regular season in the No. 5 spot.
The Celtics are loaded with multiple versatile scorers as well as a top-tier head coach, making them a sneaky pick to make the NBA Finals this season.
Here are five reasons why Boston will make it out of the East this year:
1. Balanced Attack
The Celtics have arguably the most balanced offensive attack in the NBA. Unlike the Bucks who rely mainly on Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, the Celtics have several proven scorers at their disposal.
Most of the Eastern Conference contenders have two go-to guys. The Toronto Raptors have Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry. The Heat have Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. The Philadelphia 76ers have Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris (since Ben Simmons is sidelined with a knee injury).
The Celtics become the 19th team in @NBA history, and the first Eastern Conference team since the 1984 76ers, to finish with three 20-point scorers.
— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) August 13, 2020
That list doesn’t even include Gordon Hayward, who was an All-Star with the Utah Jazz and is averaging 17.5 points per game this season.
While Miami also has a balanced attack with seven players averaging double figures in points per game, Butler (19.9) is the only player who averages over 17.0 per game.
Same goes for the Raptors, where only Siakam averages over 20.0 points per game.
Simply put, with a game on the line, Boston has four different weapons it can rely on to score at any time. Come playoff time, there are few things valued more than clutch baskets.
Boston’s elite group of scorers allows it to win games even when a top player has an off day.
2. First-Round Break
When it comes to winning a championship, just about every team gets one break that helps propel them on their run.
For Boston, its run to the NBA Finals may be propelled by an injury.
The Celtics will face the 76ers in the first round of the playoffs. Luckily for Boston, Philadelphia will likely be without one of its best players in Ben Simmons.
Ben Simmons had his left knee surgery to remove a loose body in Philadelphia today and will remain there for rehab. He's expected to miss the rest of the season.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 10, 2020
Simmons has wreaked havoc on the Celtics this season, averaging 18.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game through their four matchups.
The Celtics were just 1-3 against Philadelphia this season. However, it should make their series against the 76ers much easier if Simmons is unable to go.
The Celtics are about as battle-tested as any team in the Eastern Conference.
Between Tatum, Brown, Daniel Theis, Semi Ojeleye and Marcus Smart, the Celtics core group has been to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018. While Theis was injured in 2018, he was a part of the team’s run in the playoffs in 2019.
In addition, both Walker and Hayward have been in the playoffs during their career, giving the Celtics plenty of experience in the playoffs.
Last year’s loss to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals certainly left a bad taste in the Celtics’ mouth, but it gave them valuable experience to use for this season.
The Celtics made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in Tatum’s rookie year, but both he and Brown have developed into rising stars over the past two seasons.
The addition of Walker is key as well, especially after Kyrie Irving shot 8-for-22, 7-for-22 and 6-for-21 in three consecutive Celtics’ losses against the Bucks in last season’s playoffs.
Walker has shown the ability to defer to Tatum, Brown and Hayward, making Boston all the more dangerous this year.
4. Combination of Coaching and Efficiency
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is one of the best in the business. In seven seasons with the Celtics, Stevens has a winning percentage of 56.4 percent and has made the playoffs in six consecutive seasons.
Stevens not only has shown he can manage having multiple scorers on the floor in his offense, but he also has the Celtics playing some of the most efficient (and fun) basketball in the NBA.
A GEM from Brad Stevens last night! Stevens is a well-known fan of the European game, so this clip also shows how the same Stagger Curl action is used by great teams like Joventut and Basket Zaragoza in Spain's top league, Liga ACB. #NBA #Celtics @LigaEndesa @BasketZaragoza pic.twitter.com/JZKIB0hgx0
— Slappin' Glass (@SlappinGlass) August 7, 2020
Boston is in the top five in the league in both offensive and defensive rating. It trails only the Bucks and is tied with the Los Angeles Clippers in net rating, sitting at 6.3 this season.
In addition, it shoots a great percentage from 3-point land (36.4 percent) and is eighth-best in the league in turnovers per game.
Simply put, Stevens knows how to run this team and run it efficiently.
Boston has switched up its defense at times in the bubble and throughout the year which has been extremely effective.
Brad Stevens and the Celtics have utilized this 1-3-1 Matchup Zone on BLOB the past few years. Here's a look at some of the rules within it. They'll also use a 2-3 Zone on BLOB's as well… a few clips of those possessions are in here too. #NBA #Celtics #BradStevens pic.twitter.com/WfcqPky97t
— Slappin' Glass (@SlappinGlass) August 8, 2020
Stevens may not have the NBA Finals experience that coaches like Nick Nurse possess, but he’s been to the playoffs enough times to handle his team in crunch time.
5. Tatum Could Be THAT Guy
He’s only 22 years old, but Tatum is a heck of a player down the stretch of close games.
He may not be the biggest star in the Eastern Conference, but Tatum has been pretty good in the clutch this season.
In the final minute of games that are within five points, Tatum is shooting a blistering 64.3 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from 3-point range.
According to NBA.com’s clutch stats, Tatum shoots a solid 50.0 percent from the field in clutch situations.
In the playoffs, it is important to have a go-to guy when the game is hanging in the balance.
While all four of Boston’s top scorers can get it done when they need a basket, when the game is on the line, Stevens usually turns to his 22-year-old budding superstar.
So far, Tatum has been up to the task. Leading a deep playoff run would only solidify his status as a future superstar in this league.
Boston may not have the best player in the East, but instead it has multiple star-caliber players and are well-rounded enough to make it to the NBA Finals this season.