BOSTON – You would have to go back to the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics squad to find the last time the Celtics were such prohibitive favorites to come out of the East… until now.
Those kinds of lofty expectations have made some reminisce about the team that won it all in 2008, a team that the man who coached them – Doc Rivers – sees some similarities with this current Brad Stevens-coached group.
“It’s similar,” said Rivers, a co-host along with Stevens and award-winning journalist Bob Ryan of the ABCD Hoop Dreams fundraiser at the TD Garden. “The difference is this team has kind of been together a little bit where our team was pretty new.”
Prior to the 2007-2008 championship season, the Celtics acquired Ray Allen via trade on draft night and later added Kevin Garnett via trade from Minnesota. They joined forces with Paul Pierce to form a Big Three which led the Celtics to the franchise’s league-best 17th NBA title.
This group stepping onto the floor spent most of last season together, although Gordon Hayward was lost for the season after just five minutes of play, and the Celtics were without their top player Kyrie Irving for the team’s postseason run, which ended in a Game 7 loss to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Embarking on his sixth NBA season, Stevens is well versed on the overly optimistic views that just about every team in the NBA has at this time.
“One of the things about all 30 teams at the start of the season, is everybody is looking at their upside and looking at their best possible scenario,” Stevens said. “Everyone feels great where they are. Nobody’s played a game yet; nobody’s lost a game yet.”
For Boston, Stevens believes the key to success this season isn’t all that different than it was a year ago.
“We just need to be the best version of ourselves,” he said. “We can’t skip steps. We can’t talk about being the favorite. We can’t talk about being in the mix. We can’t talk about being a playoff team. We have to go back and earn all that.”
Added Rivers: “I don’t think anyone doesn’t want that expectation. You want to go into the season, you want to be the favorite, you want people to pick you. It doesn’t matter if they do or not if you think you have that type of team. I guarantee you if no one picked the Celtics this year – that’s not going to happen - but if they did, they would think they’re going to win anyway. That’s all that matters. I had a group like that here, and it was a great group to have.”
And while the expectations may be higher now than they have ever been for a Stevens-coached team here in Boston, it’s clear that he has a high level of comfort having those expectations placed on this particular group of players.
“One thing I will say is, you would rather be in the position where you have expectations and having everybody back because that means the guys in the locker room are the ones that earned them,” said Stevens, referring to his team which returns everyone from last year’s regular playing rotation. “Having earned expectations is a positive thing.”