The Boston Celtics must make a deep run in the NBA playoffs if head coach Brad Stevens’ job is going to be safe after they posted a disappointing 36-36 regular-season record.
That started Tuesday evening in Boston when Jayson Tatum and Co. blew out the Washington Wizards in a play-in game. Tatum went off for 50 points, making up for the loss of fellow star Jaylen Brown for the remainder of the season.
This now sets up a first-round playoff matchup against a super-team in that of the Brooklyn Nets. At the start of the season, most figured Boston would match up well against Brooklyn after earning a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019-20, but after the Nets added James Harden and with the Celtics’ struggles, this might no longer be the case.
With that said, there’s several reasons to believe that the Boston Celtics could pull off a shocking upset over a 48-24 Nets. Here’s a look at a few of them.
It’s not a coincidence that Tatum dropped 50 points against Washington Tuesday evening. The 23-year-old former Duke star continues to come up huge in big games.
Last season saw Tatum average 25.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists on 37% shooting from distance during the playoffs. He also averaged an NBA-high 40.6 minutes in the Orlando bubble. However, it’s what Tatum continues to do in elimination games that has him looking every bit the part of a franchise cornerstone with the Boston Celtics.
In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last season against the Toronto Raptors, Tatum dropped 29 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out seven assists. It was needed with Boston coming out on top by a score of 92-87.
Then a rookie, Tatum went tit-for-tat with then-Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs. While the Boston Celtics ultimately dropped the game, Tatum scored 24 points and grabbed seven rebounds. It was a sign of things to come.
Likely matching up with Kevin Durant throughout the first round of the NBA Playoffs starting on Saturday, I am fully expecting Jayson Tatum to be playoff Jason Tatum in this one.
On the surface, the trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving appear to be unbeatable. However, there’s other layers to this.
First off, the three played all of eight games together during the regular season after Harden was acquired from the Houston Rockets in December. Injuries and COVID-related issues led to them failing to mesh on the court at the same time.
Harden missed a majority of the final six weeks of the regular season with a hamstring injury. Durant dealt with multiple injuries and COVID-related issues. Irving was away from the team due to both personal issues and his own injuries. The number of games each star missed during a truncated 72-game regular season is something else.
On one hand, they could be rested come Game 1 against the Boston Celtics Saturday. On the other hand, a lack of cohesiveness could very well play into Boston’s hands.
Even with Jaylen Brown sidelined, Boston still has depth. Assuming big man Robert Williams (toe) is able to play this coming weekend, the Celtics can go as much as 10 deep. That’s a big deal against a Nets squad that relies big time on its starting five.
It’s also important to note that Marcus Smart and Tristan Thompson are two of the best all-around defenders at their positions in the NBA. Smart will more than likely be tasked with containing Kyrie Irving while Thompson can protect the low-post on drives from Durant and Harden. In Boston’s play-in win over Washington, Thompson scored 12 points and nabbed 12 rebounds. Smart is a two-time All-NBA Defensive Team performer.