ESPN Analyst Says Celtics Are True Championship Contenders

Getty Images Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart of the Celtics react to a shot during the fourth quarter against the Toronto Raptors

The NBA world is once again starting to take notice of the Boston Celtics.

After Boston leaped out to a 6-0 postseason record after grabbing a 2-0 lead in their best-of-7 series against the Raptors, it dramatically increased its chances of winning the NBA Finals. The Celtics had the fourth-best odds of winning it all behind the Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Los Angeles Lakers, who hold the best odds – they are a plus-225.

Rumblings around the association started taking Brad Stevens’ team a bit more seriously after its strong start but those talks were quickly muted days later when the Raptors returned the favor and evened up the series, 2-2. Now, with Toronto on the brink of elimination, one NBA analyst is convinced that the Celtics are title contenders.

ESPN’s First Take co-host Max Kellerman weighed in on the Celtics’ odds Tuesday afternoon on ESPN Radio’s The Max Kellerman Show

“The reason the Celtics really have a chance is because they can play elite defense when they really need to,” Kellerman said. “Anytime they’ve looked like world-beaters it’s the defense. But while they don’t have one player that’s like Kawhi Leonard or obviously, LeBron James or Luka or James Harden or somebody that’s like ‘wow, that guy’s unstoppable.’ They do have a guy in Jayson Tatum, who looks like he could get there within the near not-so-distant future.  

“All five of their starters are above average, including Theis.”

Is Jayson Tatum Ready To Lead A Championship Team?

While many believe Tatum is ready to step into those big shoes this time around, he’s going to have to prove it within the foreseeable future. Tatum, who’s entering this third consecutive postseason run, made a strong case throughout the course of the regular season.

“Tatum, who I think can be the focal point of a championship team on offense one day if that day is not already here,” Kellerman said. “Kemba Walker, obviously, is an All-Star caliber offensive player and then Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward are not only excellent two-way players but you don’t really need to run plays for them. You can but you don’t need to, they can get their buckets in transition and in the flow of the game.”

Walker, who’s never been a part of a deep playoff run prior to arriving in Boston, has already had a pair of signature games throughout the Celtics’ run.

“Is it a ‘Giant 3’? No, it’s not the Warriors from a couple of years ago or the Cavs from a couple of years ago, like a ‘Big 3,’” Kellerman explained. “But it’s a pretty ‘Big 4’ and when they lost that one, Gordon Hayward, then it’s like ‘ah, maybe this won’t be their year’ but Brad Stevens has coached his butt off and these guys have played. One of the ways that the minutes got absorbed is Marcus Smart has played a more prominent role and Marcus Smart is one of the crunch-time players.”

The Marcus Smart Factor

Smart, who just received his second consecutive All-Defensive First Team honor, continues to make his presence felt throughout the playoffs. He did a tremendous job of containing the Sixers’ backcourt in round one and against the Raptors, Brad Stevens turned to Smart for an important assignment in Game 5.  

“The adjustment to put him on Kyle Lowry,” Kellerman emphasized. “Kyle Lowry had such a good game two games ago, it was like ‘wow, is he the greatest Raptor of all-time?’ I mean Kawhi is only there for a year, look at how Lowry has played. Now, in the playoffs, that monkey off his back from a couple of years ago after last year’s playoffs and look at the kind of stuff he just did. Put Marcus Smart on him; he’s not getting that anymore.  

“That’s one way, maybe, not having Gordon Hayward, has helped this team. You can see what you can do with the other pieces.” 

Without even mentioning the Miami Heat, Kellerman is putting the Celtics in the NBA Finals to represent the East over their second-round opponent.  

“The Celtics could easily wind up representing the East and they could even win a championship if they get Hayward back,” Kellerman added. “This is a very good team, a very well-coached team.”

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