By Jack Belanger ’21
Despite having multiple players suffer injuries and a tough stretch where they lost five out of six games, the Boston Celtics are where many expected them to be: first place in the Eastern Conference.
Even without star forward Gordon Hayward, Boston has dominated throughout this season which included a 16-game winning streak earlier in the year. This could be the year the Celtics finally climb over the wall that is the Cleveland Cavaliers, and make their first NBA finals appearance since 2010.
The Celtics’ defense has vastly improved from last year, which puts less pressure on them to score at a higher rate. Last year, Boston gave up 105.4 points per game, which was 15th best in the league, while this year they are giving up 98.8 point per game, the second best.
Last year, the gap between the Celtics and the top teams was much wider than this year. Last year Boston went 3-7 against teams with the top four records in the league, while this year they are currently 4-2.
And while the Celtics finished ahead of Cleveland last year in the Eastern conference, the Cavaliers dominated Boston, winning three out of four games during the season and outscoring them by an average of 7.8 points. This year, Boston has gone 1-1 against Cleveland, scoring an average of 100.5 points, while Cleveland has averaged 95 points.
While the Celtics themselves have improved this season, a big part of why they have a good chance to make it to the finals is that Cleveland has gotten worse. The Cavs have been surrounded with turmoil this year and have regressed from last season as they sit in third place; five and a half games behind Boston.
In a discussion with Sam Coella ’19, he said that last year when Boston played Cleveland in the playoffs, the Cavaliers had the best player on the court in Lebron James and the second best in Kyrie Irving. This year, Boston has the second best in Irving and potentially the third best in all-star Al Horford, as former Celtic Isaiah Thomas has not been the same as last year.
While Cleveland may end up being the favorite to reach the finals at the end of the year, the gap between them and Boston is no longer as wide as it has been. With the way Boston has been playing, they are more than capable of winning a seven-game series against Cleveland and making their first NBA Finals appearance since the Big Three era.