The NBA playoffs kick off in 11 days if you can believe it. Maybe 12 depending on where your seeding is, but the point is they'll be here before you know it. The rest of this week will be about playoff seeding positioning considering pretty much everything from seeds 1-10 is up for grabs. The #1 seed is a stretch but technically still alive so you get my point. From the Celts perspective, which is all I really care about, there's a lot of talk recently about who fans want them to face. What would be the best path, who should they avoid, shit like that. My stance on that is pretty simple. The Celts playoff run has more to do with how they look and play rather than who they play. To say that another way, they can beat anyone in the top 8 and lose to anyone in the top 8 as soon as the first round. That's how wide open I truly think the East is. There is truly no "you should want Team X, that would be an easy series" in my opinion. That type of mentality is how you get your ass beat.
So I went through each of the top 10 seeds and picked one thing that would concern me heading into a potential playoff series. It does not mean I wouldn't pick the Celts in that matchup, but just something that would be a concern should the two teams play. Considering we don't know where the Celts will finish, I figured it made the most sense to just include them all. Here's where I am as of today
You may think my concern with the Heat would be their zone. It seems as though every time they unleash it against the Celts we see a team that apparently has never seen a zone before at any point in their life. It's remarkable really.
But that's not where I'm going. You can scheme around that and figure it out with adjustments. My biggest concern when it comes to the Heat is how easily they are able to mentally dominate the Celts. It's almost as if they completely lose their minds whenever they play MIA and a little bit of adversity hits. A foul doesn't go their way, Lowry grifts to perfection, shit like that. We just saw it the last time they played last week and we saw it in the bubble. The Celts ability to keep their mental composure is absolutely the #1 concern I have with the Heat. It's not their defense, it's not their depth or shooting, it's the mental part of the game. You could make the case that the Heat know they are able to get into the Celts heads and when that happens the Celts choke.
A younger me would say having to play Khris Middleton. That might sound weird to anyone who isn't familiar with the fact that Khris Middleton turns into Michael Jordan when he plays the Celts but it's the truth. That man haunts my dreams. Despite that fact, I'm going in a different direction should these two means face each other.
I'm not totally sure how they handle Giannis without Rob.
If you go back and look at all three games these two played so far (Celts 2-1) you'll see Rob was pretty important in all 3 (11/10 shooting 75%). It's not that anyone can stop Giannis, we know by now he gets what he wants whenever he wants, but my concern is you look at the Celts available frontcourt guys and it's a nightmare matchup once you get past Al. Nothing against Theis or Grant, but that's a battle they are simply too small for.
My concern is we're going to see a lot more doubles/delayed doubles against the Bucks which is a dangerous game given how good they are at shooting the basketball (4th in 3PM, 5th in 3P%).
Their game this week might give us some idea of how things might look, but I also don't think Ime is going to be all that willing to show his gameplan right before the playoffs.
We all know the playoff history between these two recently. Celts have dominated the matchup to the tune of an 8-1 record the last two times these teams have faced each other. Now, both sides are drastically different. They split the season series 2-2, but the Celts have not faced James Harden yet (he didn't play in their post deadline ass kicking).
You might be thinking my concern here would be similar to the Bucks in terms of having to guard Embiid without Rob. The truth is, Rob historically struggles a little bit with Embiid because he can't stop biting for pump fakes so that's not really where I'm going. Al has proven to be effective at limiting Embiid both historically and this very season
My concern now with Harden in the mix is the fact that when the Celts play the Sixers, they foul out of their minds and that was even before you add Harden. In 4 games this year the Celts average 21 fouls a game against PHI. That's about 3 more fouls than their season average of 18, which is the 5th best mark in the NBA. My concern is that with one less big to throw at Embiid and then adding in a high FTA player in Harden, the Celts might have a tough time defending without fouling. Or let me say it another way. They may play good defense, but will still see those two live at the line.
Their shooting doesn't concern me, their bench certainly doesn't and neither does their coach. When it comes to the Sixers it's all about being able to defend without fouling. We're yet to see that happen. Even in the game they won by 48 points, the Celts still committed 25 fouls which led to 39 Sixers FTA.
The Bulls are another team that people are sort of down on right now because of their slide down the standings. They areoften the team mentioned when fans talk about preferring a certain matchup. I say be careful what you wish for. I won't factor in Lonzo because who the hell knows what the deal is with his knee. That roster still has 3 All Star caliber talents in LaVine/DeRozan/Vucevic so I would not exactly consider them a cakewalk. Every Celts fan should know about the damage Vuc has done to this team historically, so for me that's not some sort of layup matchup that it might be for others.
My concern about a series against the Bulls comes down to one simple fact. They are the best clutch time team in the Eastern Conference and it's not really that close. In the East, they rank
1st in clutch time offense
8th in clutch time defense
1st in clutch time net rating
7th in clutch time points
1st in clutch time FG%
2nd in clutch time +/-
Why? Because DeMar DeRozan exists. Outside of probably Chris Paul, there has not been a better clutch time player this season in the entire league. Normally in the playoffs, it all comes down to executing in those big moments. The Celts? While getting better, still clearly have issues there. The Bulls have the talent to keep games close, and then will not fear close end of game situations. In fact, they thrive in them.
Maybe you're concerned about all these rumors around player availability should the Celts face the Raptors. Considering that's all speculation since none of us truly know the deal, I say let's focus on actual basketball concerns.
When you watch these two teams play one thing is pretty clear. The Celts ball handlers have a bit of an issue dealing with the Raptors length. This was evident in their game last week (10 TOR steals) and it has shown up in each of their 4 games. The Raptors do a really good job at packing the paint and almost every single time you see someone put the ball on the floor, they are so good at using that length to reach/knock the ball out. It's not just the game where Tatum/Brown missed either.
On the season, Tatum averages 3.7 TOs against TOR and Jaylen 3.5. Smart is also at 3.0 in his 4 games against the Raptors. This is an issue because the Raptors are #2 in the NBA in points off turnovers. If you're careless against them, you die.
So while I think the Celts often times have the right aggressive approach against TOR, I do have some concerns about how loose with the ball their best players are. The Raptors can throw guys like Gary Trent Jr, OG, Siakam, Barnes, etc who are all long as shit and do a great job of finding ways to get their hand on the ball when someone drives.
Injuries have sort of screwed the Cavs as of late, but I'm going to just assume Jarrett Allen/Evan Mobley is back for the postseason. I think it's fair to say that most people consider the Cavs the weakest of the top 8 seeds, and all I am going to say is be careful with that. Sure they may be ahead of schedule in their rebuild, but there's a reason this team was so successful when they weren't decimated by injuries.
Did you know the Cavs are 10-4 on the season in games decided by 3 points or less? They are a team that can unleash 3 different 7fters which is certainly tough for the Celts to match up with. Plus, Darius Garland is that dude. My concern about a series against a healthy Cavs team is simply matchups. So much of the Celts success is their ability to finish at the rim, and you won't find too many centers better at rim protection than Jarrett Allen. Mobley is very advanced as a defender despite being a rookie, and the Cavs did spend a huge chunk of the year with an elite defense. While their health is a concern of course, if they are back to normal they will absolutely play someone tough in a series when things slow down.
With no Rob available, having to deal with those three 7fters isn't exactly going to be easy.
The Hawks are rolling right now, winners of 5 straight to take over the 8 spot. I'm not sure how John Collin's recovery is pacing but he's not really my concern when it comes to the Hawks.
This season, the Hawks have been a bit of a matchup problem, especially when it comes to containing their shooters. That's my biggest concern. Every time they play we see the Hawks get off to great starts. Whether it's Trae, Huerter, Bogdanovic, it feels like the Celts have a big time issue containing the three point line.
In four games this year, the Hawks average 6.8 3PM on 38% shooting from deep in the first half of games. They're averaging 60 points a game in the first half. That's….an issue. My concern facing them in a playoff series is they are a pretty tough team to come back from once you get down double digits, especially with the way Trae can draw fouls/they can get hot shooting. If the Celts don't guard the three point line over a full 48 minutes, the Hawks absolutely have the talent for an upset. We just saw it last season.
Is it maybe a stretch to think the Hornets would beat the Nets in a play in game? Maybe, but who knows what the deal is with BKN right now. Are they good? Do they stink? Nobody knows.
With the Hornets, my concern is pretty similar for them as it is for the Hawks. It's their offense. It comes in at 9th in the league (just behind BOS), and they are 5th in 3PM/7th in 3P%. You catch this team on the right night, they'll drop 120 on you without breaking a sweat.
If we're in the trust tree, my real concern facing the Hornets would be the Isaiah factor. There could absolutely be some karma to deal with when it comes to that. That might sound crazy, but look at what the Hornets have done since Isaiah came on board. The win. Having a series against the Celtics South would be something I'm not sure my heart could handle.
Let's keep this short and sweet. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, ever heard of those guys? Yes, the Nets defense is horrendous. Yes, their depth is a question right now. I get all that, but sometimes the playoffs come down to your best vs their best and considering Durant is the best player in the world that's more than enough to give anyone concern.
Plus, historically Kyrie has found ways to be pretty effective against Boston. Maybe not in their last meeting, but I wouldn't exactly rule him out either.