By Staff Writer Thomas Griffin.
This season’s Boston Celtics are looking prime to compete for the NBA Finals, after a few departures from rival Eastern Conference juggernauts.
After a disappointing loss in the seventh game of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics season was over just on the dorstep of a championship berth. They were a single game (and considering the 87-79 final score in game seven, a few points) away from making it to the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. This year, they’re looking to handily win the Eastern Conference, possibly winning the finals in the process.
Part of the reason that the Celtics are likely to win the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals is due to one transaction: Lebron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Los Angeles Lakers. Throughout their entire playoff run to the Eastern Conference finals, the Cavaliers put up the most resistance against Boston, with multiple Cleveland wins following double-digit leads. With James serving as their star player and on-court leader, the rest of the Cavaliers roster seemed to be rather pedestrian, almost as support pieces to give the rock to the legendary small forward. Without him, they don’t seem to be likely contenders late in the playoffs.
Now with the Los Angeles Lakers, James will be playing for the Western Conference championship, away from the playoff progress of the Celtics. Remaining relevant in the Eastern Conference are the core players of the losing Eastern Conference semifinalists, the Toronto Raptors and the Philadelphia 76ers. Philadelphia was blown out by the Celtics 4-1, and Toronto couldn’t stand a chance against the Cavaliers in a 4-0 sweep. The top-heavy talent of the East makes for a relatively easy sweep for Boston in the postseason.
Speaking of talent, Boston’s key players are returning to give a run for the NBA finals another try. Most notably sticking around is star point guard Kyrie Irving, one of Boston’s top scoring players last season. Irving returns from a knee injury that kept him benched throughout the 2018 playoffs, a contributing factor in their loss against the Cavaliers in the Conference finals.
In fact, much of the Celtics roster struggled to stay healthy throughout the later 2017-2018 season. Injuries were handed out to the Boston team like candy, disabling players like Irving, Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward, and Jaylen Brown. The depth in Boston’s injured reserve list was a key factor in the team struggling and ultimately failing to make a championship run. All these athletes are expected to return to full playing capacity by the start of this season.
The biggest issue in the Celtics making a championship run this season is the relatively strong Western Conference. Despite leaving Cleveland, Lebron James is likely to make the Lakers a championship-contending group and carry them into playoff participation, no matter the talent of other core players. The talent-stacked Golden State Warriors, on the other hand, are only getting stronger with the addition of DeMarcus Cousins, the resigning of Kevin Durant, and the contract extension of head coach Steve Kerr.
Considering how these Warriors rolled the James-led Cavaliers, 4-0 in the NBA Finals, they might be the biggest hurdle between Boston and a trophy.
Nevertheless, the Celtics’ roster will be back in-full to give the Eastern Conference a run for their money. Star players have been resigned, injured stars have healed to full form, and powerhouses throughout the conference have lost their flame.
With a little bit of luck, this very well could be the Celtics’ year.