The Boston Celtics are currently 6-6 and 10th in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, positioning them for the final spot in the returning play-in tournament. Boston’s situation has not progressed as much as fans would have thought they would in 2018, when they took the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the conference finals without then-starting point guard, Kyrie Irving.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were recently criticized by Marcus Smart for their selfishness, and Brown is now out for a couple of weeks with an injury, while the other fringe contenders in the East are already showing themselves as formidable threats.
So, the main question is this: where do the Celtics stack up against the rest of the Eastern Conference?
Starting with the obvious here: the 6-7 Milwaukee Bucks, currently positioned outside of the playoffs, will finish the season with a playoff berth, as will the 9-4 Brooklyn Nets, 8-5 Philadelphia 76ers, and 7-5 Miami Heat. This means that there are four sure-fire teams that will finish above the C’s.
In the second tier of the East lies the 8-4 Chicago Bulls, following a transformative summer free-agency period, as well as the 7-6 New York Knicks. Chicago in particular has a legitimate chance to finish as a top-three seed in the conference, especially if they can increase their volume from beyond the arc (currently taking the fewest threes per game).
In the third tier, the Celtics find themselves stacked against the 8-3 Washington Wizards, 4-9 Atlanta Hawks, 7-7 Charlotte Hornets, 5-8 Indiana Pacers, 7-6 Toronto Raptors, and, potentially, the surprising 8-5 Cleveland Cavaliers. All of these teams could feasibly pose a threat to the teams in the tier above, though their inconsistencies and lesser talent hold them back from being considered a true contender in the playoffs
Boston’s Playoff Hopes
Based purely on star-power, the Celtics have the third-best duo in the East, trailing only Kevin Durant and James Harden and Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. However, their similar play styles often visibly clash on the court; this is where other teams get a leg up, as Boston’s team is more of an assembly of talent, rather than a cohesive unit.
In the same breath, they can get contributions from all over the roster— Al Horford is a multi-time All-Star, Dennis Schroeder scored 38 points in his last appearance, and Marcus Smart is a perennial first-team All-Defensive team candidate. Theoretically, this would push Boston’s ceiling even higher than it currently is.
Comparing Boston directly to the other teams in the third tier, it is hard not to say that they are a league above. The only problem with this, however, is that they have not proven themselves on the biggest stage, nor have they shown that they can consistently meet expectations.
The next month will tell a lot about Boston’s current squad. Will they be remembered as the team that put its differences aside and figured it out, or will they be a team of talent that wasted away and ultimately forced its franchise to rebuild and trade away the different pieces? Who knows. But, for now, Boston looks to be somewhere around a seven seed in the East, battling for a right to skip the play-in tournament.