BOSTON -- No one questions that this Celtics team is playing well and has the potential to make a deep playoff run.
But there’s at least one coach -- and no, his name isn’t Brad Stevens -- who believes they can go very far this season.
"They have a legitimate chance to get to the (NBA) Finals through the East with that team,” Rick Carlisle told reporters after the Celtics’ 111-98 win over his Mavericks on Monday night.
Now it’s not all that uncommon for coaches to fall victim to hyperbole when they are just moments removed from a loss to a good team that played one of its better games.
But Carlisle’s confidence in the Celtics and their chances of making a deep playoff remains just as strong even after he had a chance to sleep on it.
“They’re very well-balanced, they’re deep, they’ve gained a lot of experience,” Carlisle told CSNNE.com in a Tuesday morning phone interview.
He also pointed out how Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford give them a pair of proven, All-Star caliber players to lean on.
Thomas will play in his second straight All-Star game on Feb. 19 while Horford has been named an all-star four times.
“And they (Celtics) just … they’re very good at both ends and they can score,” he said.
But the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers stand in the way of any Celtics surge towards the NBA Finals, something Carlisle acknowledges would be a difficult challenge for Boston to get past.
“If Cleveland is completely healthy and whole, they’re going to be favored over anybody in the East; there’s no question about that,” Carlisle said. “But the grouping below Cleveland; you’re talking about Boston, Washington, Toronto, that grouping, that’s wide open. If you can get to the conference finals in the East, you give yourself a puncher’s chance in a seven-game series.”
Boston (36-19) has won 10 of its last 11 games and currently trail Cleveland (37-16) by 2.0 games for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics know how important getting home court advantage in the East would be if they are to have a legit shot at doing what Carlisle believes they are capable of which is to advance to the NBA Finals.
“We’re always looking forward, and that’s a team (Cleveland) ahead of us,” Isaiah Thomas said following Monday night’s win. “My sights are definitely on Cleveland. We’re in reach, but we just gotta keep it going.”