John Hollinger, the sultan of stats, has this to say about the Celtics chances:
4. How good is Boston, really?
A lot better than you might think. Most observers look at the East and see the Celtics as a really good team who may or may not get past Detroit in the conference finals.
Wake up, folks -- this is one of the best teams of all time, and you might be surprised how easily they roll through the playoffs. I realize this is raining on the parade a bit since everybody is so jacked up about the competition in store this postseason, but I have to warn you there's a chance the Celtics are just going to flat-out destroy everybody.
I don't want to jinx the team or anything, but it is hard to argue with his logic, especially when I'm hearing what I want to hear. Read the rest of his explanation after the jump.
Boston went 66-16, one of the best marks in league history, but even that mark sells the Celtics short. At 10.3 points per game, they had the scoring margin of a 70-win team. That scoring margin is better than all but three teams since the ABA-NBA merger, and those teams all had Michael Jordan. By contrast, last season the Spurs had a scoring margin of 7.8 ppg, and that was easily the best mark in the league.
Here's the real crazy part: their numbers were this good even though they coasted the final month and a half! Kevin Garnett didn't play 40 minutes in a game after March 5; he averaged 31.9 minutes in March and 25.4 in April. For Paul Pierce, it was 32.6 and 27.4; for Ray Allen, it was 31.2 and 29.0. Plus, each of them skipped two April games just to freshen up.
They have the three stars, yes, but they also play suffocating defense -- the Celts had one of best defensive seasons of all time, in fact (we'll get into that more as we get deeper into the playoffs). Meanwhile, a bench that was supposed to be a liability has instead kicked some serious butt, and the late-season addition of Sam Cassell added a crunch-time scorer to the mix.
The Western Conference is where all of the excitement and most of the quality resides, but I'd be very surprised if the West champs can beat Boston in the Finals ... and even more surprised if somebody besides Boston was their opponent.