Life comes at you fast in the NBA.
Just last week it felt like the Boston Celtics were looking in the rearview mirror as the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers gained on them. The Brooklyn Nets might have been stumbling a bit with Kevin Durant sidelined but were still a threat given the talent they possessed.
One week after Boston’s lopsided victory over the Nets, Brooklyn completed an impromptu tear down by delivering Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns in an overnight jaw-dropper -- this after sending Kyrie Irving to Dallas last week. Couple all that with Boston’s shorthanded win over the previously accelerating 76ers and it sure feels like the Celtics and Bucks have separated themselves in the Eastern Conference.
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Boston's path to the NBA Finals, once daunting given the overall collection of talent in the Eastern Conference, feels slightly less imposing this morning. Yes, the Knicks made a minor splash by adding Josh Hart and the Raptors got Jakob Poeltl at a fair price. Others in the conference will improve before Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.
But the Celtics should feel good about their standing given the events of the past week.
The addition of Kevin Durant undoubtedly improves the Suns’ championship chances. The Celtics don’t have to worry about that until June. Not having to see Durant four times per year -- or any earlier than the Finals in the postseason -- is a good thing for any team. And, even in the aftermath of the Durant deal, the Celtics remained the Vegas favorite to win the NBA title.
The Celtics showcased their depth during Wednesday night’s win over the 76ers. While it ought to give them further confidence in their bench, it shouldn’t dissuade the team from looking to add before the deadline.
Boston navigated a challenging path to get to the Finals last year. It doesn’t feel like any of the East’s potential play-in squads pose nearly as much of a problem. If the Celtics can hold onto the No. 1 seed in the East, their path certainly won’t be anywhere near as imposing as the Nets-Bucks-Heat triumvirate last season.
That’s not to suggest it won’t be prickly. A potential 1-4 matchup with Cleveland is still concerning given the Cavaliers’ size, the presence of Donovan Mitchell, and Cleveland's success against Boston earlier this season. But let’s just say it's better than having to go through the Bucks in Round 2 like last season.
Maybe the final hours of the deadline will see others in the East improve. Maybe we’ll feel differently about the East over the final two months of the regular season. Much of how we feel about the East could hinge on what Milwaukee does before the deadline buzzer.
But, for the moment, Boston's path back to the Finals simply feels more inviting.