Anchor Staff Writer
Though the 2022-23 NBA season is still in its early stages, teams have started to make their mark. There’s teams that have announced their arrival, like the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns. Then there are teams that already aren’t having the greatest of seasons such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic. The team that a lot of fans, especially in Rhode Island want to focus on is the 2021-22 NBA Finals runner up: the Celtics.
The Celtics went from being looked over to being seen as one of the greater teams of the current NBA era. Not too long ago, they were blowing leads and no-showing against some of the worst teams in the league. In the eyes of the harshest NBA fans, the Celtics were undoubtedly a laughing stalk. However, that all seemed to suddenly change sometime during the 2021-22 season. During that season, Boston showed out and defeated a Ja Morant-led Memphis Grizzlies, who were undoubtedly the number three team at the time. That win against Memphis also marked Boston’s 13th win out of the last 15 games.
The biggest culprit for the Celtics’ sudden turnaround was their defense. By March, the Celtics had the second best defense out of all 30 teams, 105.4, trailing behind the Warriors’ 105.3, who were the 2021-22 league champions, by just a percentage. In contrast, it seemed that Jayson Tatum, unarguably the best player on the Celtics as of, struggled throughout the 2021-22 season with his offense. Defensively however, Tatum was an absolute unit.
Despite their efforts, however, Boston did fall short in the 2021-22 NBA finals. They started the finals with a 2-1 advantage over the Golden State Warriors, who have won four of the last seven NBA titles, but too many turnovers and inconsistent shooting on Boston’s end would lead to their ultimate defeat.
As the new season rolled around, the competition started to look different, giving Boston hope. The Warriors suffered an away game losing streak early on, and their team’s chemistry was thrown off before the season had even started. Beyond that, trades that saw role players leave such as Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. seemed to have disfigured the Warriors a little bit, making it clear that they were unlikely to be a roadblock for the Celtics this year.
Tatum, who was mocked relentlessly after losing the NBA finals, came into this season at his absolute best. Averaging 31.6 points per game (ppg), he has the second best scoring percentage in the league, only trailing behind Luka Doncic’s 33.5 ppg by 1.9 points. Tatum has led the team to an 18-5 record at the time of publication, and has made it pretty clear that this year is his revenge arc. So what are the odds that the Celtics will be back in the finals?
In their conference, it seems that the only real battles, in a perfect world where the Celtics are 100% healthy and aren’t caving under pressure, will be with the Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, or Cleveland Cavaliers. Those teams stand out based on not only their records, but also their notable ability and runs in the previous year.
Cleveland is currently third in the eastern conference, and have already beat the Celtics twice this year in overtime. The Hawks, who are currently fourth in the eastern conference and made it to the playoffs last year, have Trae Young, the 2021-22 regular season’s sixth-leading scorer who has an efficiency similar to that of Stephen Curry, one of the best shooters that the NBA has ever seen. The Bucks, who were 2020-21 champions and are right behind the Celtics, seem to be the best defensive team the league has right now. As for the 76ers, who are seventh in the conference, they seem to be one of those teams that could go either way, but have two main stars, Joel Embiid and James Harden. Alongside their big two, they have a pretty strong supporting cast.
That being said, if Boston continues this season how they are playing right now, which currently has them leading the entire league in win percentages, they’ll more than likely be back in the eastern conference finals, if not the NBA finals. But as the competition is more aggressive this year, the Celtics must be more critical of and learn from their previous year’s mistakes during crunch time.