In contrast to their Eastern Conference counterparts, the Boston Celtics have a lot to prove in 2021-22.
The champion Milwaukee Bucks, led by back-to-back MVP (2019, 2020) and 2021 Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo sits atop of the East’s throne. Kyrie Irving’s vaccination status remains uncertain and with that so does the chance we see the Brooklyn Nets retain its two-seed of last year.
The latest Celtics news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Celtics newsletter here!
However, having arguably the best player in Kevin Durant along with superstar James Harden and a supporting cast gives the Nets the benefit of the doubt that they will finish with a better record than the Celtics. The Philadelphia 76ers? Maybe.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe: ‘People Are Sleeping On Boston’
Guess that all depends on how All-Star Ben Simmons’ situation unfolds for the Sixers as we’re inching closer to where the Celtics’ range in the Eastern Conference could potentially reach, this season. While teams such as the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, and revamped Chicago Bulls could pose a threat to the Celtics’ chances of securing home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe, however, says the crux of the matter, for Boston, this season, will come down to its defense — which he believes, will be one of the better defenses in the league.
“People are sleeping on Boston,” ESPN insider Zach Lowe wrote. “The Celtics are so deep, with makings of a top-5-ish defense; lineups featuring Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Robert Williams III will be hard to score against. Don’t fixate on Al Horford potentially starting games in what appears to be an antiquated double-big arrangement. It might actually work given the collective passing between Horford and Williams — and the ability of Brown and Tatum to knife through tight corridors.”
Lowe: Double-Big Lineup or Not; Celtics Have Options
Celtics fans’ concern about seeing a new double-big lineup is legitimate considering what happened when Brad Stevens trotted out a starting-5 featuring Daniel Theis and Tristan Thompson at the start of the 2020-21 campaign. He hadn’t unleashed Robert Williams yet.
Now, starting with Williams next to veteran and mentor Al Horford? Well, that could be a recipe for success and one that would be a mix of gritty pick-and-roll defense on one end while setting hard screens, creating open lanes, and uncontested opportunities on another.
“Regardless, Boston will play Brown at power forward a ton, and it has the depth to build those lineups between Payton Pritchard, Josh Richardson, Dennis Schroder, and Aaron Nesmith (I like Nesmith’s last 20 games, and Richardson is better than he looked amid dysfunctional spacing in Philly and bouts with COVID-19 in Dallas. Smart can play beside Schroder or Pritchard),” ESPN’s Lowe added. “If either Grant Williams or Juancho Hernangomez proves a reliable bridge between those two lineups types, Boston is in business.”