Let’s get the excuses out of the way first. Yeah, they’ll be without Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Daniel Theis for the post season and Marcus Smart might come back in the second round if they can get through a hungry young Bucks team. That’s all been prologue to what’s been a gritty season in Brad Stevens’ fifth year and arguably his best coaching considering all the injuries.
After only bringing back four players from last year’s #1 seed, the Celtics have the league’s best defense and a slew of young players that have stepped up in the absence. Jayson Tatum is a Rookie of the Year candidate, Jaylen Brown has elevated his game and avoided a sophomore slump, and Terry Rozier has filled in admirably with Irving and Smart on the mend. Even without two-thirds of their Big Three, Boston still boasts a solid rotation of veterans including All-Star Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes, and Greg Monroe. As always, Brad Stevens has emphasized versatility on offense and defense and instilled growth mindset in all his players. There should be no surprise that the team has yet again finished with more wins than the year before for the fifth straight year.
And they’re not finished yet.
At yesterday’s practice, Rozier said, “we’ve had a chip on our shoulder since Hayward went down.” They’ve used that underdog mentality to win improbable game after improbable game after improbable game. They’re favored against Milwaukee, but several pundits have pointed out the upset potential of this series.
Keep doubting them, NBA. These Celtics are for real.