Avery Bradley after hitting a game winning buzzer-beating 3 pointer against the Cavaliers on February 5th.
Unlike the other three major professional sports leagues in the U.S. and Canada, the NBA is the one where the most talented team ends up winning the championship. In 2012 the 8th seeded LA Kings got hot and rode goalie Jonathon Quick all the way to a Stanley Cup championship. That same year the 10-6 Baltimore Ravens were led by an average QB, Joe Flacco who got hot in the playoffs en route to a Super Bowl Victory. The season before that the 9-7 New York Giants won the Super Bowl, still the worse record by a Super Bowl champion. In 2014 the 5th seeded San Fransisco Giants, who wouldn't have even qualified for the postseason pre-2012 under old wild card rules, won the World Series thanks to a historical playoff run by Madison Bumgarner. One sport where you essentially never see a surprise championship run is the NBA.
Major upsets or comebacks for series deficits in the NBA playoffs can happen but are hands down the most rare of all the leagues. Even minor upsets have been rare recently, every championship team since 2007-08 has been either a 1 or 2 seed, with the exception of the 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks who were.... a 3 seed. The last
The biggest "Cinderella" run of any conference champion in the NBA during that timeframe was the 2009-10 Boston Celtics who were seeded 4th, went 50-32, upset the heavily favored Cleveland Cavilers (coincidentally that Celtics team was the last Eastern Conference champion team that did not have Lebron in it's roster) in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals and ended up going all the way to game 7 of the NBA Finals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. You could argue that wasn't even a real upset run as that Celtics team in the previous two seasons had won a championship, and posted a 60+ win season that ended prematurely due to an injury to star PF Kevin Garnett.
Today on March 1st, 2016 I can guarantee you with almost exact certainty that the NBA Champion will be the Warriors or the Spurs. You could perhaps make an argument for the Cavs or Thunder but after that there are no other teams out of the 16 who qualify for the playoffs that have a chance in Hell of hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy in late June.
This is because in the grind that is the NBA playoffs, with 7 game series and longer breaks between games than the NHL and MLB, talent is going to triumph 9 out of 10 times. You can ride a hot player for maybe a series, but the better team on paper is going to win a vast majority of the time. Coaching obviously is important (look at the Spurs) and can be the deciding factor between talented teams, but without a superstar you don't have a chance and honestly you need more than one superstar to seriously compete for a championship.
That is what is so odd about this year's Boston Celtics and brings me to write this blog. Now I'm going to preface this by saying this team will not win the NBA Championship, and has next to no chance to do so. However in the weak Eastern Conference they do have a chance to appear in the Finals IMO. Despite everything I just said about talent being the be all end all in the NBA unlike any other sport. This Celtics team plays a college-like style under coach Brad Stevens without a true superstar, winning with unselfish play and good defense to grind out wins.
The success of this Celtics team is interesting because on paper they are a group of cast aways and throw ins from trades. Players like Isaiah Thomas and Jaw Crowder who were great in college, were 2nd round picks, and in the NBA they have about the same success rate as 7th rounders in the NFL, have found their niche in Boston. And unlike most teams, have a good coach and system that everybody has bought into putting ego aside for the team. Their level of success has been a pleasant surprise for Boston fans, and the effort and heart the team plays with despite it's shortcomings talent wise make it easy for Boston sports fans to love this team. What is more surprising is in an era of success in Boston sports where anything less than a championship is considered a failure, with this team I do not get that vibe. Fans aren't going to be devastated in this team loses in the 2nd round.
After sneaking into the playoffs at 40-42 last season before being swept by the Cavs in an uncompetitive series, expectations for this year's Celtics were not exactly high. Going into the season, fans were hopeful for maybe a 5 seed and perhaps a playoff series win, at the very least, not to be swept again. After a very good few months, highlighted by the longest home winning streak since the Pierce and KG days, Celtics fans have began to wonder, just how far can this Brad Stevens coached bunch go?
The biggest challenge in the Eastern Conference for this team is the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Raptors are a nice team as well, l but the Cavs are the top dog and defending conference champion. The Cavs talent-wise have a far substantial roster, thats not even a debate with the best or 2nd best player in the league, Lebron James. A star point guard, Kyrie Irving, and a perennial all star in PF Kevin Love. However, despite holding the best record in the East they fired their coach and have had other internal issues as well. That is what gives me hope about this Celtics team, that the Cavs internal struggles will lead to their demise.
Now IMO this what I believe you can expect from the Celtics come playoff time.
-They should win their first round matchup. IMO if they don't that will be a disappointment.
-After that they most likely will face off against the Raptors, who I briefly mentioned are among the best in the East with the Cavs. That would be a hard fought series that I could see going either way. A loss their would be tough, but understandable.
-Should they move on there is a 98% chance they'd be taking on the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals.
I'd expect the Cavs to be a heavy favorite, and in the NBA that means they'll probably win, but I think you cannot count out of the Celtics entirely. If i was going to bet I'd say Cavs in 6 but as we've all seen in sports, you never know what is going to happen.
As for the Boston Celtics playoff expectations, again I'd say they should definitely get out of the 1st round, I'd say their realistic ceiling is an appearance in the ECF with the absolute best case scenarios being an NBA Finals appearance where they either get swept or somehow steal 1 game at home against the Warriors or Spurs. Regardless what happens it is very exciting to have the prospect of meaningful playoff basketball in Boston coming up in the next couple months.