Way Out West: Potential Finals Opponent Edition Can the Celtics win it all? Spoiler alert: yes.

Let me be very frank, and it won’t be popular around the Bay. What happened last night in Oracle Arena was no fluke, and the defending champs should be very, very afraid of what Boston can do in the playoffs. Here’s why.

Marcus Smart can balance out Draymond Green

First off, that’s a rare thing in today’s NBA. Not many teams have a guy that can do anything like what Green brings in Dub City. Is Smart as versatile a defender as Green? Not quite, as he’s a few inches shorter than Green. But both guys play a throwback role on teams that focus on perimeter defense and long, lean, fast bodies. They’re both enforcers, bold, brash, and downright mean. Both guys bring to mind tough guys of a past generation. Bill Laimbeer, Charles Oakley, Dennis Rodman, Charles Barkley. These guys never stuffed the stat sheet, except the rebound column, but their value to their championship-caliber teams can’t be overstated. If this were hockey, they’d be called “goons”. Designated protectors of their teammates and the scrappy spark that ignites offensive bursts with key stops, stuffs, and turnovers. They keep opponents honest and they create mistakes. Like him or hate him, the Celtics are a far better team with Marcus Smart.

The Celtics were built for this

Danny Ainge is one of the best personnel guys in the NBA, and when he saw what the Warriors were building, he knew he needed to adjust his formula, and fast. What he did, more quickly than almost any other front office, was build a team focused on youth, length and speed, with great perimeter shooting. Not a lot of teams can keep up with a burst from the Warriors. The Celtics can. They were built to beat this specific team. The Celtics were the preseason favorite to come out of the East and face the Warriors. They’ve had some growing pains, as the various pieces try to reintegrate, but the idea of last year’s East Finals team improving by two all-stars is very much alive, and last night proved it. They didn’t just beat the Warriors on their floor. They wiped them off it by being better at literally every facet of the game. If that doesn’t shake Golden State to their core, nothing will.

Gordon Hayward is becoming Gordon Hayward again

Most of this season for Celtics fans has been a nerve-wracking attempt to figure out if Gordon Hayward was ever going to return to form. He’s averaged 11 PPG so far this season, on roughly 25 minutes per game. That’s about half his career scoring average on three-quarters of his accustomed minutes. Suddenly, with last night’s 30 pt., 7 rebound game, Hayward looks a lot more like the All-Star Boston anticipated getting. Combine that with a 19 pt. 11 assist effort from Kyrie Irving, and things look very much real. Listen, it’s only one game, and Hayward scored only twenty-seven points in his previous five games combined, but if there’s a way to get your mojo back after a tough return from injury, pummeling the defending champs in their gym is probably it.

Brad Stevens is still figuring this thing out

It seems simple really. Take last year’s unit composed almost entirely of youngsters, add in a healthy Kyrie and Hayward, and boom. Expectations were sky-high. But you can’t just randomly throw two spark plugs into the running engine of a Ferrari and expect it to go faster. It doesn’t work that way. Most likely, something is going to sputter or break, and you’ll need to turn the car off, install the spark plugs properly and start over. It’s taking some time, but I think that might be where we’re at now with Stevens, learning to manage these veterans and the young guys cohesively. If he can get these guys on the same page, and last night is a STRONG indication that that’s the case, this team is every bit as dangerous as we thought they were before the season started. It might remind you of another Boston sports team that seemingly sputters early in the season, especially on defense, making pundits doubt them mightily, then becomes something else entirely when the playoffs roll around. It’s a good model to follow.

The Warriors don’t want the Celtics in the Finals

OK- this might be a bit of a catch all to feed you some stats, but put simply, the Warriors are exceptional at beating teams that are built around a single star, like LeBron, or Giannis in Milwaukee. They don’t fare as well against teams that come at them with a more balanced attack and solid defense. Witness them getting blown out by the Rockets without Harden and the Raptors without Kawhi. When the offense is spread out, the Warriors aren’t as good at pressuring opponents into mistakes. The Celtics trail the Warriors in net rating by a mere .2, and they are the third-ranked team in defensive rating. Golden State isn’t in the top five. The C’s lead the league in free throw percentage and have also made more three pointers this season that the Warriors. Shocking, I know. But the Celtics can keep up. On defense, the Celtics are a top five unit in steals and blocks, while the Warriors have called Andrew Bogut, hoping to shore up their defense in the paint, as Boogie Cousins isn’t yet at 100%, and he’s never been an elite defender anyway.

At the end of the day, Boston, despite their struggles thus far this season, is a particularly dangerous matchup for the Warriors, should these two teams navigate the East and West as we all assumed they would way back before the season started.

Editor’s Note: This post brought to you by a friendly wager between SAFV’s two NBA gurus:

 

 

Image Source: USA Today

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