Boston Celtics: The C’s are a completely different team

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10: Shane Larkin
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10: Shane Larkin /

In the past few years, the Boston Celtics brought an excitement and a thrill to the NBA playoffs. What will they bring this year?

It came down to the last game of the season. As Aron Baynes led the Boston Celtics to a victory over the Nets, the Bucks, Wizards, and Heat battled for playoff position.

In the end, Milwaukee ended up dropping to the seven seed after a blowout loss to the 76ers. Now, the Celtics and Bucks will match up for the playoffs for the first time since 1987. For more on this matchup, check out our series preview on the site.

A new start

This year, Boston heads into the playoffs as a totally different Celtics team. Not only are 11 of the players different, but the mindset and expectation are different as well.

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In the past two seasons, the Celtics went into the playoffs as a team on the rise. In 2016, a first-round matchup with the Atlanta Hawks gave them a chance to prove something to the rest of the league. Two years ago, the Boston Celtics wanted to make a big first step in a long run of playoff berths.

They lost that series 4-2, but they were able to build nonetheless. A rambunctious playoff crowd and a strong basketball culture made a big impression on then Hawks center Al Horford heading into his free agency. I’m sure he didn’t mind the $128 million either.

That season, the C’s surprisingly surged up to number one in the East. You couldn’t help but ask: Could this be the year? Will the Celtics finally upend LeBron in the playoffs?

Well, not quite. The Celtics would make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals but they would exit in five games. Yet, there was still plenty to build on. Last year’s playoffs gave Boston incredible moments. Isaiah Thomas, playing through injury and tragedy, was excellent against Chicago and Washington. Despite a disappointing end in the playoffs, he was ready to lead the Celtics through another year of progression.

A busy offseason

In July, the Celtics signed Gordon Hayward. In August, somewhat out of nowhere, the Boston hero Thomas was traded for Kyrie Irving. Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, and Jae Crowder were gone. The team we watched for 2 seasons was no more. We would never see Thomas bring the Celtics their 18th championship. The crowd would never chant “Kell-y, Kell-y” as Olynyk was awarded Finals MVP.

None of that would happen, but there was a catch: every off-season move Danny Ainge pulled off made the team better. Irving was better than Thomas. He just was. Trading down to get Jayson Tatum and getting a pick in the process worked perfectly. The Celtics were better and their expectation was elevated to Finals contender.

Plenty of moments to forget (and remember)

Also, new addition Gordon Hayward breaking his ankle in the first six minutes of the season was an underrated pickup. Oh wait, that was actually the worst moment of the season. When Hayward went down, the season felt over. The plan to cash in the chips from the past few years felt like a waste. On the night of October 17, for the first time in three years, it felt like the Celtics took a step back.

However, there was no collective step back, just mood swings. The Celtics followed a 0-2 start with a 16 game winning streak, including a comeback win at home over the immortal Golden State Warriors. Then, the mood swung with a logjammed schedule in December to make up for a London game and extra days off.

Even when they got back from overseas, the team looked tired. Pre All-Star break, LeBron and the Cavs got better and destroyed the Celtics. Toronto surged and overtook the Celtics for the number one seed.

Yet, Boston came out of the break roaring, swinging the mood once again. Irving, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, and Tatum were all playing their best basketball of the season. The Cavs settled down, Toronto didn’t look invincible anymore, the East was wide open for the Celtics again!

It didn’t last. Once again, the tide turned. Every player on the Celtics missed at least one game in March or April with an injury. Unfortunately, some missed more than just one. Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis, and Irving all missed at least half of March and the entirety of April. Once Kyrie was ruled out for the season, things looked bad again. Even more, the hard truth hit some hopeful fans: the slim chance of a Hayward return was ruled out.

What will the Celtics bring this year?

Obviously, with Kyrie out, the Celtics are without their best player in the postseason. That much is a given. But the real story of this year’s postseason, unlike Kyrie, is not out for the season.

In the coming week, (well, hopefully weeks) the Celtics have everything and nothing to prove. While the hopes were and are so high for this team, no one is picking them to advance past the second round. As soon as Kyrie went out, like with Hayward in October, the expectations fell through the floor.

Still, the Celtics rebounded in October and they can do it again. The remaining group of young guys and Horford have a chance to make their own expectation once more. The Celtics can shock some by winning 4 games, shock many by winning 8, and the world by winning 12 or 16.

It’s not 2016 or 2017. The Celtics aren’t on the rise or ready to surge to the top of the East. That’s what bad luck and injuries will do to you. So what will 2018 bring? What is the story for this year’s postseason? Maybe Rozier is ready to break out. Perhaps Brown and Tatum will take a big step in the playoffs. Or the young duo could seem a year away from dominating in the playoffs. The Celtics could even get blown out in the first round and end a season with stretches to forget with a series to forget.

Next: Marcus Morris has evolved in Boston

Either way, the next week should be exciting to watch for Boston Celtics fans. Really, anything can happen.