The hype is starting to build around the Boston Celtics.
Less than 24 hours after the NBA announced a 22-team season return plan that will take place in Florida beginning in July, a prominent NBA analyst has predicted the C’s will get back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
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ESPN’s Jalen Rose was on Thursday’s edition of “NBA Countdown” and had some positive comments on the Celtics and why he thinks they’ll win the Eastern Conference.
“In a neutral situation, the way the season is about to be shotgun started again, I’m taking the Celtics in the East,” Rose said. “I’m taking the Celtics in the East, because one of the great things about the Bucks – of course, their game does travel – but their home court was a huge advantage for them, a major advantage. If we’re playing pickup ball, and the Celtics and Bucks players are in the gym, I’m going to pick Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the next four or five picks are going to be Celtics. That’s my choice to come out of the East.
The Bucks have played well pretty much everywhere this season and lead the East with a 53-12 record, but Rose is right, they are definitely better at home. Milwaukee owns the second-best home record in the East at 28-3. The Celtics own the third-best road record in the conference at 20-12.
But Rose doesn’t just like the Celtics because they can win on a neutral court. He also pointed to Boston’s roster construction and style of play as reasons why it could surprise people in this unusual playoff setting.
“I’m loving teams like the Celtics and the Rockets,” Rose said. “Small ball, spread it out and take advantage of the big guys that can’t score against little guys. That’s really what it’s gonna be. It’s gonna be like AAU out there. These dudes have been off for months, so if dudes like Russell Westbrook and James Harden can get hot – he’s averaging 40 and then Russ? Boston’s winning the East. The more I think about this — God, strike me down. I hadn’t said this out of my mouth or even thought about it one time until we had this conversation, until right now. Boston’s winning the East, and don’t sleep on Houston in the West, but they’re not better than the Lakers or the Clippers.”
The Celtics are well-equipped to win the Eastern Conference. They are the only team in the conference with three players averaging 20-plus points per game. Jayson Tatum leads the team with 23.6 points per night, and before the shutdown he was taking his game to a superstar level. Kemba Walker is another go-to scorer, and the long layoff has given his knee ample time to build strength. Jaylen Brown also was having a breakout season, and Gordon Hayward was playing at an All-Star level for long stretches. Boston’s bench also is quite deep, with head coach Brad Stevens often giving minutes to nine or 10 guys each game.
Boston also has shown an ability to win against elite teams. The C’s have beaten the Bucks, Lakers, Clippers, 76ers, Raptors, Nuggets and several other top teams at least once in 2019-20.
One of the most exciting things about this NBA season has been its unpredictability. We have five or six teams, and maybe more, with a legit chance of getting to the NBA Finals, and we rarely see that in today’s era. It’s going to make for a wild playoffs, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all if one or two teams make a surprisingly deep run and pull off a few upsets.