This spring is going to be a whole hell of a lot of fun in Boston as the Celtics and Bruins both look like legit contenders to win their respective conferences and advance to their respective championship rounds.
As far as winning the whole thing though – this might be a bridesmaid year for the city as the Pats already finished as the NFL’s runner-up and the C’s and B’s may very well follow suit. Sticking to the Celtics for now, they just seem a notch below the NBA’s true elite in 2017-18 as the Warriors and Rockets look like the true top tier of pro basketball.
Celtics honks will quickly point out that the C’s have already beaten both Golden State and Houston this season, and the C’s nearly toppled the Rockets in Houston this past Saturday night.
I’ll counter with the fact that both of those Celtics wins occurred in the calendar year 2017, and both took place at the friendly confines of TD Garden. The C’s also didn’t have to deal with Chris Paul in that Dec. 28, 2017 win over the Rockets and they had to make a miraculous 26-point comeback to grab that home win.
The 92-88 win over the Warriors in Boston took place before Thanksgiving, just to drive home how long ago that was, and Steph Curry looked to still be injured from a bruised right thigh injury that night.
Plus - the next time the two teams played, a motivated and healthy Curry dropped 49 on the C’s, scoring 13 points over the final 1:42.
In the Houston game Saturday night, the Celtics looked like the better team throughout much of the game. But the fact of the matter is, the C’s were outscored 37-31 in the fourth quarter and were burned, big-time, by a late 10-2 Houston run. The Celtics’ top two players in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford also struggled against Houston throughout Saturday’s tilt.
Irving and Horford combined to shoot 10-of-29 on the night, and both players had late, costly blunders. Irving had the ball stolen from him by Trevor Ariza in the final minutes and Horford did not call a time out on an offensive rebound to save a key possession.
Look, Kyrie is excellent, and he’s actually surpassed expectations in his first year in Boston. He’s a top 10 player in the league. He’s also proven to be a clutch performer throughout the season and a clutch performer throughout this NBA career (41 points in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals, the key shot in Game 7 that year to beat Golden State). But I’m just not ready to put him in the class of a Kobe Bryant or a Paul Pierce in terms of “clutch.” You need one of those guys to win a championship, and right now we need to see a bit more out of Kyrie to put him in that category. “Clutch Kyrie” existed in the playoffs when LeBron was getting all the focus put on him by a defense. Does “Clutch Kyrie” exist as the no-doubt No. 1 on a team? We’ll find out.
Now, this is all nit-picky stuff - I’ll admit. The Celtics are 44-20 and will likely finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference. They are unbelievably doing all this without Gordon Hayward.
But the absence of Hayward will hurt the most when things start to get real with this Celtics team. If the Celtics win the East, which I think they will do, they will meet either the Warriors or Rockets in the NBA Finals. With a completely healthy Hayward, I think they could take either team to seven games. Without a completely healthy Hayward, I think they get swept or lose in five to either team.
Upsets in the NBA playoffs can happen, yes. A team can steal a game here or there. But to beat an all-time super team like the Warriors or Rockets four out of seven times, you’ve got to have an all-time super team of your own. The Celtics, for as great as they’ve been this season, just aren’t there yet.