The Celtics had no right being in the postseason two years ago.
Owning a sub .500 record at 40-42, the Celtics trotted out a starting lineup of Brandon Bass, Tyler Zeller, Marcus Smart, Evan Turner and Avery Bradley against the Cavaliers in Game 1 of their first round series. The C’s ended up being swept by the eventual Eastern Conference champs.
In 2015-16, the Celtics went 48-34 and met up with the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, a team that had an equal 48-34 record. The C’s lost the first two games in Atlanta – getting blown out in Game 2 thanks to a seven-point first quarter. They regrouped to win the next two games at the Garden but dropped Game 5 in Atlanta and Game 6 at home to end their season.
The Celtics enter this postseason in an awkward position. No one is expecting them to reach the NBA Finals – let alone win it, but at the same time the season will be viewed as a disappointment if they cannot at least reach the Eastern Conference Finals.
Last season, there were plenty of excuses for the C’s failures in the playoffs. They were a team built to rig their regular season record because of their depth and ability to win the second nights of back-to-backs. They also still had that gimmick of Isaiah Thomas – their best player – coming off the bench for much of the year. In other words, they were something of a fraud team. Their strong record did not indicate how average a team they were.
This postseason, it’s their time to try and shake that label of a paper tiger that can only win in the regular season.
“These are the playoffs that I’ve looked forward to the most probably since I’ve been in this league,” Al Horford told MassLive.com. “I feel very strong about this group. I think we have a special group. I can’t wait for us to get started (in the playoffs).”
Horford was a member of that Hawks team that dismantled the Celtics’ season last spring. He had some shaky games in that series (many wondered aloud why the Celticswould want to attempt to sign him in the off-season), but his “just win baby” mentality worked out for him and Atlanta. Horford scored 24 points in a Game 1 Atlanta win over the C’s, but only averaged 12.5 points overall in the series.
Celtics fans now know that that’s just the type of player Horford is. He’ll score 16 points one night and then four the next. Is that inconsistency? Maybe. But the green guard will lead you to believe that he adapts to the game plan on a night to night basis and will sacrifice offensive numbers in order for his team to win.
Winning two seven game series’ to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals is what theCeltics need to do this postseason to prove they’re not a fraud.
Starting this weekend, it’s “show me” time.