The Boston Celtics were the favorites to win the Eastern Conference at the beginning of the season, and young star Jayson Tatum is still quite confidence in his team's chances of reaching the 2019 NBA Finals.
Tatum didn't stop there, however. He told ESPN's Rachel Nichols after winning Saturday night's All-Star Skills Challenge in Charlotte that the Celtics will win Banner No. 18 this season.
"We're going to win the Finals this year," Tatum said. "Feb. 16, Jayson Tatum says (the Celtics) are going to win the Finals this year."
The Celtics entered the All-Star break in fourth place in the East standings, which is further down than most people thought they'd be at this point in the season. The C's have endured a real rollercoaster-like campaign, highlighted by impressive win streaks and plenty of wins against good teams (including a 7-3 record against their top four opponents in the conference) combined with stretches of poor play and puzzling losses to inferior teams.
You still have to like Boston's chances come playoff time, though. One reason to like the Celtics is the confidence of their young players, and Tatum certainly is part of that. He went toe-to-toe with LeBron James in last season's Eastern Conference finals and nearly led Boston to a Game 7 win. Boston's other young contributors, including Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, also don't lack confidence.
Overall, the C's have the most depth (and arguably the most talent) of any team in the conference, and they have an elite head coach in Brad Stevens. The challenge over the next two months for Stevens is finding the best rotations and roles for each player, because those two areas have been problematic thus far. Although, the situation has improved in recent weeks as Boston won 12 of its last 15 games before the All-Star break.
The Celtics will be a very tough out in the playoffs and would give the Golden State Warriors, or any Western Conference champion, a hard-fought NBA Finals series. First, the Celtics have to get there, and judging from Tatum's comments, it's quite clear they believe in their ability to get the job done.
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