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Burke: How far can the Celtics go now in NBA playoffs?

Burke, Celtics, NBA, playoffs
Kyrie Irving will miss the entire postseason. Getty Images

This Celtics season is legit cursed.

You may or may not believe in karma, but Danny Ainge blew up an Eastern Conference finalist last summer and traded away an absolutely beloved player in Isaiah Thomas. The two hired guns he brought in to lead the C’s back to the promised land – Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward - are now both done for the season.

Look, the 2017-18 Celtics weren’t winning the NBA title anyway – even if a healthy Irving still existed and an 85 percent Hayward returned at some point this spring. The elite teams out West – Golden State and Houston – are just on another level.

And it surely won’t be as fun to watch the Celtics this postseason knowing that they have zero shot at winning it all. But, make no mistake – this postseason will still be fun.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will be forced to grow up at an even more rapid pace, and if we’ve learned anything from watching those two this year it’s that they already own the ability to go toe-to-toe with the big boys of the league. Those two absolutely will be able to steal playoff games this spring – even against dudes like LeBron and DeMar DeRozan.

Veteran Al Horford will be counted on to lead this group, and (yes) will be counted on to score more. Marcus Morris will have a chance to become an overachieving hero – much like Thomas did under Brad Stevens. Morris has shown in recent weeks that the Celtics can thrive when he’s one of the go-to-guys on offense as Stevens has found a way to raise his game.

 

Who can the Celtics beat?

This Kyrie-less Celtics team just beat the No. 1-seeded Raptors at home last Saturday. LeBron and the Cavs are still ripe for the picking despite recent success. The young 76ers could be the Celtics chief rival in the East for the next decade, and it would be fun for Boston’s youngins to get a leg up on Philly’s untested group.

Assuming this injury-riddled Celtics team can get by the Bucks or the Wizards or the Heat in the first round – we will be treated to an ultra-exciting second round against likely the Cavs or Sixers. Imagine the Celtics being able to force a Game 7 at the Garden against LeBron and the Cavs? By that point, the city will have fallen in love with these scrappy C’s and the place will be an absolute madhouse.

So, who can they beat? Seriously – anyone in the East.

The issue, however, is that they could also lose to anyone. The C’s lost to the Bucks (the current eight seed), 106-102, in Milwaukee on Tuesday. And it will be no slam dunk that Stevens and the crew will be able to solve Giannis Antetokounmpo, or the recently returned John Wall and the Wizards, or Goran Dragic and the Heat.

It will still be a blast to watch them try, though, as one thing this 2017-18 Celtics team – even without Irving and Hayward – has NOT been is boring.

They may be cursed, but they ain’t boring.