Boston Celtics: Real Playoff Basketball Back in Boston

Apr 13, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Evan Turner (11) celebrates a victory against the Miami Heat at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 13, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Evan Turner (11) celebrates a victory against the Miami Heat at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Celtics have a chance to make some noise in the NBA Playoffs for the first time in the Brad Stevens era.

Ya I know, they were in the playoffs last year too, but let’s be honest it would have been a surprise if the Boston Celtics won a single game in their 1st round series against the Cavs a year ago.

No one in Boston expected the team to make the playoffs last year let alone actually make some noise. This year however, there is a sense of urgency surrounding this team and playoff basketball will once again be an exhilarating time for Celtics fans.

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It feels as if it were a decade ago that the Celtics were legitimate contenders. In reality it’s only been 4 seasons since the last time they reached the Eastern Conference Finals, but don’t tell that to Celtics fans – for them it’s been a lifetime.

For the first time in the Brad Stevens era, and for the first time since the departures of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Doc Rivers, the Boston Celtics have the city’s attention as they head into the playoffs and unlike last year the city actually has some expectations for their beloved Celtics.

The Celtics finished the regular season with a 48-34 record and had it not been for a completely dysfunctional NBA tiebreaker rule, the Celtics would be sitting in the 3rd seed in the east and hosting tonight’s playoff game instead of being the traveling 5th seed.

After Cleveland and Toronto, who finished with 50+ wins a piece, you could make a case for the Celtics being the next best team in the East. Atlanta was great a season ago, but for a team that won 60 games just last season the fact that they were only able to muster 48 wins this year indicates that there has been some sort of drop off with that team.

The Celtics on the other hand, have only improved. And for the most part they have remained fairly consistent all season long. The Celtics haven’t found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture nearly all season, and they have been able to beat some of the leagues best teams, including a thrilling victory over the record-setting Warriors just a few weeks ago.

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A loss is still a loss, but it should count for something that the Celtics were able to take the Warriors to double overtime in their first meeting of the season back in December. The Celtics also put up great games against the Spurs in their two meetings this season, losing the first 95-87 and the second 108-105. Other than the Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks the Celtics have picked up wins over every other playoff team in the Western Conference, including impressive victories over the Thunder and Clippers.

It just so happens that the team the Celtics have struggled most with this season will be the team they are facing tonight in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Celtics have lost 3 of 4 to the Atlanta Hawks this season and have had a hard time containing the Hawks’ versatile frontcourt duo consisting of Al Horford and Paul Millsap.

The Hawks are certainly not an ideal match-up for the Celtics in an early playoff series, but there are reasons for Celtics fans to be optimistic heading into this series.

Brad Stevens has a basketball I.Q that few coaches in the game can match and he has now faced the Hawks 4 times this season. Which means, he knows where his team can be successful against the Hawks and where his team may have trouble, and I have faith that Stevens will find the best match-ups and the best scenarios for his team to succeed.

On paper the match-up favors the Hawks, but this a Celtics team that doesn’t look much into paper match-ups, statistics, or analytic’s. Numbers don’t mean much to these guys. I mean their most valuable player doesn’t exactly jump off the page when it comes to numbers, he stands at 5 foot 8 and was taken with the 60th overall pick in the draft just a few years ago.

This is a team made up of a dynamic group of players who all contribute in a variety of ways. You can say the Celtics don’t have a superstar, just don’t say it to Isaiah Thomas.

He only finished the season averaging 22.2 points per game to go along with 6.2 assists, the best regular season numbers by a Celtic not named Paul Pierce in the last 10 years and was named an All Star for the first time, but ya you’re right he’s just a role player and a second option on a contending team. . .

Boston Celtics
Apr 13, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) and guard Isaiah Thomas (4) celebrate after defeating the Miami Heat at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /

Isaiah took the city by storm last night when he released his own tribute to the city of Boston on The Players Tribune.

In his piece titled “Boston” Thomas explains how being traded to the Celtics has been the best thing that has happened to him in his career and he expresses his love and gratitude to the city of Boston.

"Right after I got traded to Boston, I got a text from Isiah Thomas — the older one. It said, “This is the best thing that will ever happen to your career.”I didn’t really know what he meant by that. So I called him up, and he broke it down for me.“Now you’re gonna experience what real basketball is like, what real fans are like, what a real organization is like,” he said. “And they’re gonna fall in love with you more than any place you’ve ever been.”Honestly, I still didn’t know what he meant. Playing in Boston is just one of those things you can’t prepare yourself for. You can’t understand it until you experience it.Now I get it."

As a Celtics fan, reading this piece gave me the chills. It also gave me a new found confidence in Isaiah Thomas.

He gets it.

He understands what it takes to be an athlete in this town. He understands and appreciates the history of the franchise and what the franchise means to these fans. Thomas wants to bring a championship back to the city of Boston and he seems determined to do just that. He plays with grit, toughness, and a chip on his shoulder. All things that the people of Boston can relate to.

Critics say the Celtics can’t contend without a legitimate superstar, but Thomas intends to prove those critics wrong.

This postseason is the chance for Thomas to show the world that he is in fact a superstar and that he can lead this team to the promised land.

While reading his piece I also thought to myself “man this dude is smart.” What a way to get the Celtics fans hyped up before the playoffs. If the city wasn’t behind him already, they are now. In addition to that, he also just sent a message to players across the league, more importantly to players the Celtics may pursue in free agency.

Who knows, maybe Isaiah’s piece will influence another superstar to join him in Boston next season. He certainly makes a compelling case.

Although the Celtics got swept by the Cavs in the first round last season, it gave this group of young guys some playoff experience. They now know what it’s like to play in the postseason, and they know what it takes to win in the postseason. The only question now is, can they continue to build off that experience?

Thomas, Stevens, and the rest of the gang certainly believe they can. And the rest of us are about to find out.

I can almost guarantee that this series isn’t going to be over in 4 games. The Celtics are too good to get swept by the Hawks. This series is going to be exciting, it is going to be close, and it is going to feel like playoff basketball. A feeling that this city cannot wait to experience again.

Throw out the statistics, throw out the regular season wins and losses, and forget about the previous match-ups. This is a new season – the postseason – and this is a team that can play with anybody in the league. Get ready Boston, because playoff basketball is back.