And then there were four.
The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets kicked off the Western Conference Finals Tuesday night, and the Atlanta Hawks will face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals beginning Wednesday.
After a fairly crazy first two rounds of playoff basketball, it’s the 1 vs. 2 seed in each conference – that’s the NBA for ya.
So here’s a question . . . how do the Celtics get back there?
Is there a common denominator between all four remaining teams that the Celtics can build a blueprint after?
Well, not really. But there is one thing: all four teams have a ton of talent. Three of the four remaining have multiple superstars.
The Celtics? They don’t have anything resembling a superstar.
The Warriors were considered the best team in the NBA for much of the season. They have this year’s MVP in Steph Curry and fellow sharpshooter Klay Thompson holding down the other guard spot. Both players were drafted by the Warriors. Curry was the seventh pick in 2009, and Thompson was the 11th in 2011. Both were obviously huge hits.
In 2012, the Warriors snagged Draymond Green early in the second round. Green does it all for the Warriors, and many think he could get a max contract in the offseason (whether in Golden State or elsewhere).
So the Warriors did it via the draft.
The Rockets? They took a different route.
A little over two months after missing out on a trade to acquire Dwight Howard, the Rockets unloaded players and picks for OKC’s James Harden just before the start of the 2012-13 season. Howard went to L.A. for one season before he became a free agent. This time, he would choose the Rockets – and all of a sudden they had quite the 1-2 punch.
Cleveland, well, they’ve had one thing more than any other team: luck. They’ve had the first pick in the NBA Draft four times since 2003, hitting with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. James, as you may know, is back in Ohio. And Irving isn’t going anywhere. As for their first overall picks in 2013 and 2014 - they’re in Minnesota, where Cleveland was able to ship them for Kevin Love.
Then there’s Atlanta, the team that doesn’t have a legitimate superstar, but instead a group of players – some stars, certainly – that know how to play team basketball. Al Horford and Jeff Teague make up two members of the core, and the Hawks drafted both. But Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll were free agents signed to two-year deals before last season. Kyle Korver was also signed as a free agent.
Talent wins out in the NBA. How a team acquires it is up to that team. Celtics boss Danny Ainge knows he needs much more of it, so don’t be surprised if you see the C’s making moves at the NBA Draft and throwing money at free agents this offseason.