Boston will get its season restart going as, generally, either the No. 4 or 5 option on the betting boards, after the Lakers, Bucks and Clippers, and lumped in with the Rockets. But Colin Cowherd, the popular host on FS1, said he considers the Celtics to be one of only three teams that are, inside his championship “bubble” when action begins again on the campus of ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
Milwaukee and the Clippers are the others. The reason: depth.
“Boston Celtics, they’re my dark horse to win it. They’re inside my bubble,” Cowherd said, according to NESN.com. “One of the reasons I like them, especially now, if they lost a guy to an injury or COVID, they’re (still) in pretty good shape. They’re the only team to have three players average 20-plus points. Averaging 20-plus points in the NBA is a real thing; that’s like an All-Star.
“Kemba (Walker), (Jayson) Tatum and (Jaylen) Brown. And if Gordon Hayward drops 24 (points), you wouldn’t be shocked. They were also 5-2 against the best teams in the Eastern Conference. I think they’re a dark horse team to win it.”
Health, Other Obstacles Loom for Celtics
It is worth noting that the Celtics were not exactly riding high at the time of the season shutdown on March 11. They had slipped behind Toronto for the No. 2 seed in the conference.
After an impressive post-All-Star swing through the Western Conference which saw Boston with three of four (all three wins were by double-digits and the one loss, to the Lakers, was by 2 points), the Celtics swooned, losing four out of six games including meltdown losses to the Rockets and Nets on their home floor.
Brown was out for much of that stretch with a hamstring injury. But if Boston struggled to cope with his absence, it could well struggle if it loses a player to COVID-19 or for another reason.
Already, the Celtics know they still will be dealing with a knee problem for Kemba Walker. Coach Brad Stevens said he would be on a minutes restriction to open the season restart.
They also will be without Hayward at an important time in September. Hayward’s wife is scheduled to give birth to the couple’s fourth child at that time and he said he will leave the NBA’s “bubble” environment to be with her.
At that point, if the Celtics are still playing, the team figures to be either in the late stages of the conference semifinals or in the conference finals. Hayward would have to be quarantined for about a week under the NBA’s bubble rules.
The East semis begin on September 1. The East finals begin September 15.
Celtics Confident in Championship Chances
Still, the Celtics do have four players who are capable of scoring 20-plus points per game, so the loss of one bedrock star won’t necessarily hamstring them the way it would other teams. Boston is lacking in bench depth but it is hopeful that a bench anchored by Enes Kanter and Marcus Smart, with rookies Romeo Langford and Grant Williams, plus role-playing vets Semi Ojeleye and Brad Wannamaker, will be enough.
The players seem to think so.
During a Zoom call with reporters last week, Tatum said, “We have a realistic chance. We obviously have the talent, experience, the depth. We compete with the best of ’em. We scrap, we play defense, and our mindset is just never give up.”
Jayson Tatum: "We have a realistic chance. We obviously have the talent, experience, the depth. We compete with the best of em. We scrap, we play defense, and our mindset is just never give up."
— Boston.com Celtics News (@BDCCeltics) July 11, 2020
They are, like 21 other teams, in the NBA’s “bubble” now. In the minds of some, at least, they’re potentially in the championship bubble, too.