Are the Boston Celtics the Team to Beat in the Eastern Conference?

The Boston Celtics added but then had a devastating subtraction this offseason. They found their groove in the latter half of the 2021-22 NBA season after struggling mightily throughout the beginning. Jayson Tatum was on a superstar level during Boston’s hot streak. He disappeared when it counted most.

Looking at the season as a whole, the Celtics were an inconsistent bunch. All the core pieces return from last year’s team, one that fell in six games in the NBA Finals. Are the Celtics the team to beat in the East this season?

The Boston Celtics should be considered the best team in the East

Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics celebrate during the first half of Game 6 of the NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 16, 2022, in Boston, Massachusetts. | Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images.

It may have taken 50-plus games last year, but the Celtics finally figured things out. Playing under first-year head coach Ime Udoka, the Celtics battled growing pains that came with some frustration and hostility.

Marcus Smart publicly called out stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown early in the season for not passing the ball. Udoka called out the team for its lack of effort. There was a lot of finger-pointing as the Celtics underachieved their way to a 25-25 record.

Boston ended the regular season on a 26-6 run, capturing the No. 2 seed in the East. The Celtics survived a grueling playoff run, defeating the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, and Miami Heat before facing the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

The Celtics primarily used an eight-man rotation during the postseason. They quickly addressed their depth issue by trading for veteran guard Malcolm Brogdon and signing veteran forward Danilo Gallinari. Gallinari, however, tore his ACL during a game in Italy last weekend and is likely gone for most of the season.

The best team in the East got better. They’re deeper and now have the Finals experience. The Bucks, with a healthy Khris Middleton, are the biggest threat. The Heat and Nets will certainly be there, as will the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, who recently acquired Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz to bolster a potent young squad. Despite the heavy competition, the Celtics enter as the East’s team to beat.

Vegas believes the Celtics are the team to beat

Forget the East, most Las Vegas sportsbooks have the Celtics as the favorites to win it all in 2023. It’s tough to put them ahead of the Warriors, but one can see why that might be the case.

In addition to the Celtics adding depth to the roster, they took the Warriors to six games without playing their best basketball. Brown and Tatum struggled taking care of the ball.

Throughout the playoffs, Tatum was inconsistent. His big game came in Game 6 against the Bucks when Boston desperately needed a win on the road, down 3-2 in the series. He was tremendous from start to finish, collecting 46 points in a victory.

He also had games where he finished with 10 and 12 points. Getting that Finals experience is invaluable. Coming up short will drive him.

The Celtics should be the favorites in the East, but the Warriors, in my mind, are still the team to beat, despite what Vegas says.

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