The Wizards and Celtics walked onto a court. Four buzzers sounded, each one coinciding with a Celts lead on the scoreboard. When the teams walked off the court; Brandon Jennings and Terry Rozier had technicals under their belt for a backcourt spat, the two tension-filled squads matched wins this season, and it was the C’s who exited with a 2.5 game lead on Washington for the two-seed.
That’s no joke.
If we all trust the process, why don’t we trust the record?
The playoffs are a different animal for sure but at a certain point the league’s audience and media have to come to sense with reality. That the Celts have proven themselves to be the second best team in the Eastern Conference.
Our neighbors to the North lost 11 of 15 games between January and February. While the Wizards have emphatically won 35 of 49 since their horrid 7-13 start, they have only been able to tie the second seed before falling back since. They’ve been coined the hottest team in basketball by some, but since December 14 the Wizards and the Celtics have matching 32-14 records.
Washington has received substantial credit for their comeback into relevancy from nowhere. It’s deserving and admirable, yet the C’s being able to hold them off cannot be overlooked.
Now at 22-7, a staggering .758 winning percentage, with no players out with injury these Celtics have proven themselves. They’ve held off the competition for the two-seed, and with only 11 games remaining they hold a solid grip on their seeding fate just 2.0 games back of Cleveland with a national TV date with them remaining on April 5.
The question remains, why is there an aura of doubt when it comes to talking about the Celtics as contenders when the numbers say they are?
Talking about them as NBA Finals worthy almost seems taboo. Throwing Isaiah Thomas’ name in the MVP conversation still draws smirks in both conversations online and among basketball fans on the street.
There’s the perception that their model of success won’t translate to the playoffs, but how can we be sure? The Al Horford addition has increased their win total by four through 71 games. Their biggest issue a season ago was half-court offense, which has now turned into their greatest strength. The defensive slack has been reeled in.
Most importantly they created separation between themselves and the other 13 teams in the conference aside from the defending champions. The latest Wizards win was convincing. The Raptors have given them issues head-to-head but Toronto’s internal woes have held them back from competing at the highest level this season.
Health is the major variable at this point, far more than seeding. An excellent regular season was squandered by injuries to Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley as well as Thomas’ nagging wrist ailment that required offseason surgery. The argument that few teams are at 100% come playoff time is legitimate, but fewer teams were as below full strength as Boston was at this point a year ago.
Now, knock on wood, the team has hit its stride in the wake of Bradley’s return from a long-lasting Achilles sprain. Crowder is having the year of his life on both ends. Thomas is an MVP candidate despite doubters continuing to highlight his defensive deficiencies that have continuously been overcome by unstoppable scoring inside and out. The combination of Smart and Bradley with Horford on the interior has finally sprouted into a defensive nightmare for opponents to score on. All of this, with a recent gracious gift of health from the basketball gods, has the Celts looking like a team poised for a run.
Boston has beaten the best of the best. They’ve been consistent all season long in the face of 42 games with starters missing. Despite barrages by Toronto and Washington, the Celts haven’t surrendered the second slot since they assumed it on January 29. That’s 52 days of firm defense.
To quote three everlasting words another team, in another decade, in different circumstances uttered, fitting for this declaration, “why not us?”