Shoot for It: With Alex Lee ’16 and John Beneville ’16

by John Beneville and Alex Lee | 2/9/16 6:15pm

Similar to last season, the Boston Celtics have surprised the NBA with a solid performance. After going 40-42, finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference and losing in four games to the Cleveland Cavaliers in last season’s playoffs, the Celtics are currently the third place team in the East at a respectable 31-22.

Point guard Isaiah Thomas is an all-star this season averaging 21.4 PPG and 6.6 APG, shooting an efficient .352 from three and .419 from the field. Shooting guard Avery Bradley, small forward Jae Crowder and power forward Kelly Olynyk have also had solid seasons. Moreover, third-year NBA coach Brad Stevens has created a strong offensive and defensive system in Boston with a very balanced scoring attack.

Though the Celtics are without any “superstars,” they are putting together a very solid performance this season. Today, we debate whether they will be able to maintain this pace and possibly pull out a deep playoff push.

Alex’s Take:

I am impressed by the Celtics. The Celtics, far removed from the Big Three era, have so many players that I did not know played in the NBA prior to writing this article. They seem like that group of misfit kids in a movie that beat the popular kids in a kickball game played during recess just before the film’s final credits.

Stevens, who practically looks like a sophomore in high school, is actually a pretty good coach. He has cultivated a great culture of team-first basketball with solid offensive schemes and special attention to defensive play. It is incredible that he was able to take this roster to the playoffs last season and pay even more attention to defense this year.

Olynyk (who I have no doubt in my mind intentionally ripped Kevin Love’s arm out of its shoulder socket in last season’s playoffs) is a surprisingly good three-point shooter and has transitioned smoothly into the NBA from his Gonzaga University days.

Moreover, Thomas is an NBA player who is three inches shorter than me and he is starting in the All-Star game. The Celtics players are a bunch of guys who are exceeding expectations, and I like what’s on in Boston. As long as they keep Stevens as their coach and Danny Ainge as their executive, I suspect that the Celtics will be a very respectable team for years to come, with a San Antonio Spurs-esque culture.

As for this season, I predict that the Celtics will continue to play well during the regular season and finish fifth or sixth in the Eastern Conference. Then, they will lose in the first round to a veteran team with more playoff experience.

John’s Take:

The Celtics are certainly impressive, at the moment, but I agree with Alex’s assessment that they will lose in the first round of the playoffs. I’m not sure why Alex mentions the Olynyk incident. I can only assume that Alex is still bitter about LeBron James and the Cavs losing Love for much of playoffs. Of course, even with Love’s help LeBron wasn’t able to win the championship.

Regardless, I don’t think it is clear at all that Olynyk is a dirty player. If he was intentionally trying to dislocate Love’s arm, it’s absolutely remarkable that he was actually able to do it. Of course, the kind of chippy arm-lock that Olynyk put on Love is not much different from what we see out on the court on a nightly basis. Pinning malice on Olynyk for a common — though perhaps petty — play seems unreasonable to me.

Back to the point, I historically have had a hard time liking the Celtics because of their rivalry with the Los Angeles Lakers. Even so, I have great respect for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, two true competitors and class acts in the NBA. Rajon Rondo is less mature and actually reminds me a lot of Thomas, and Ray Allen threw his legacy under the bus when he abandoned the Celtics to join “King” James in Miami. The Celtics today, of course, are far from the Celtics of years ago. Their coach and players are less experienced and combined they have very little playoff experience.

All that being said, the Celtics certainly hold some promise. Their young guys are talented and explosive and have the potential to elevate the franchise in the next three to five years. At the moment, however, there is just too much competition from other teams, especially in the Western Conference. There are half-a-dozen seasoned playoff teams that would run the Celtics out of town in a playoff series. Their time may be coming, but it isn’t now.