In late January, the Boston Celtics, under first-year head coach Ime Udoka, were 25-25, and things were not looking good for a team that had gone to the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the previous five seasons.
But that’s when something clicked for Udoka and his men.
They discovered they could really bother opposing teams by slowing down the pace and playing suffocating defense, and those two virtues, along with the play of emerging superstar Jayson Tatum, made them arguably the NBA’s hottest team during the second half of the season.
The Celtics surged all the way to second place in the Eastern Conference, and they humbled Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets in a first-round playoff series that some expected to be very competitive.
Boston then took out the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks in the second round, even after trailing the series 3-2 and having to win a gut-check contest in Wisconsin in Game 6.
The Celtics are on a remarkable run, but no one will really care about it afterward if they don’t reach the NBA Finals.
Boston Is Favored Versus The Heat, But It Won’t Be Easy
In the Eastern Conference Finals, Tatum and his friends are taking on the Miami Heat, a squad that doesn’t have a true, full-fledged superstar but instead gets it done by committee.
They do have Jimmy Butler, who is team-oriented to a fault but plays like a superstar in crunch time and is seemingly unstoppable in such situations.
Many, if not most experts have been picking the Celtics to win this series, to the point where one could say that the Heat may be getting disrespected a bit.
This year’s Miami Heat has been the most disrespected 1st seed team ever lol
— danny (@deeewop) May 17, 2022
In the first half of Game 1 in South Florida, Boston’s defense was on display, making the Heat uncomfortable while turning missed shots and miscues into fast-break scores.
But Miami turned things upside-down in the third quarter, going on a blistering 22-2 run, and Beantown never recovered, losing to Miami, 118-107, thanks to a dominant game by Butler.
– 41 PTS
– 9 REB
– 5 AST
– 4 STL
– 3 BLK
– 12-19 FG
– 17-18 FT
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 18, 2022
Given that this series features two defensive-minded teams that aren’t dominant offensively or fast-break teams, it will probably be a knock-down, drag-out affair in which neither team will be able to build or sustain any real momentum.
It will probably come down to which team has more grit, toughness, and resourcefulness.
The Celtics Measure Success By One Thing Only
Much like their arch-rival Los Angeles Lakers, as well as the Heat, the Celtics measure success by world championships.
They are one of the few teams in sports that doesn’t hang conference or division championship banners, nor do they even care about them.
For this team to gain any real respect throughout New England, it needs to, at a minimum, reach the Finals and put up a strong fight versus the Golden State Warriors or Dallas Mavericks.
Otherwise, its defense and toughness will pale in comparison to that of the Kevin Garnett–Paul Pierce–Ray Allen-led teams of about a decade ago, or the Larry Bird-centered teams of the 1980s that took home three titles.
If this Celtics team doesn’t get the job done, it clearly lacks one or two missing pieces.