Smart and the Celtics reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018, and they were just one win away from making the NBA Finals. But they couldn’t quite get over the hump, losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in seven games.
Smart, though, still thinks the Celtics had the better chance to win the title that season.
Despite not even reaching the Finals, Smart recently said his Celtics could have beaten the unstoppable Warriors had they made it to the championship round.
Yes, really. It appears he actually believes that.
The Boston Celtics lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals
The Celtics had high expectations heading into 2017-18. They signed Gordon Hayward in free agency and traded for former Cavs star Kyrie Irving.
However, neither played a single second in the playoffs due to injury, so Boston had to rely on its young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, as well as guys like Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, and Al Horford.
It worked, too.
The Celtics beat the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games in the first round before winning 4-1 over the Philadelphia 76ers in the conference semifinals.
They then faced the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals, and they gave the three-time reigning Eastern Conference champions all they could handle.
Brown averaged 19.7 points, and Tatum recorded 17.9 per game. They even helped the Celtics take a 2-0 lead before later leading 3-2. The Cavs, though, won in Games 6 and 7 to clinch their fourth straight Eastern Conference crown.
After that series, Cleveland faced the Kevin Durant-led Golden State Warriors, who had just won the title the year before. The Warriors then swept James and company 4-0 (garnering a strong response from Charles Barkley) to win a second consecutive championship.
Marcus Smart thinks the Celtics could have beaten the Warriors
Marcus Smart recently spoke to JJ Redick on The Old Man and the Three podcast, and while discussing the last time the Eastern Conference was as competitive as it is this season, he brought up the 2017-18 campaign.
“We definitely thought that we had a great chance,” Smart said on the Feb. 14 episode. “To this day, we still thought if we went to the championship instead of LeBron and those guys, we definitely would have beaten Golden State that year.”
He later revealed that the team had a simple mentality that season: “Go get ‘em.”
“’We’re young guys, who are very talented, and we’re ready now,’ so whoever was in our way, we were going to knock them down,” Smart said. “That’s just how we felt each game. … It was a different type of feel. We felt that no matter who you put in front of us that year, that it was gonna be a dog fight.”
Marcus Smart and the Celtics had no chance against the Kevin Durant-led Warriors
You have to respect Marcus Smart’s confidence, but his claim is outrageous.
The only thing that eventually stopped the Warriors was health. No one could beat them at full strength.
Golden State had numerous experienced stars. Kevin Durant averaged 29.0 points in the playoffs that year while Stephen Curry averaged 25.5 and Klay Thompson recorded 19.6 per game. The Celtics allowed LeBron James to average 33.6 points in the conference finals, and the Cavs didn’t have a true No. 2 scorer to turn to that year. There’s no way Boston could have slowed down a team with three elite scorers.
The Warriors also had more experience. That was their fourth straight season in the Finals and their third championship in four years. The Celtics, on the other hand, had a 20-year-old Tatum and a 21-year-old Brown. Golden State would have run circles around them strategically and in terms of composure.
And let’s not forget that the Celtics actually lost to the Cavs, who the Warriors then swept. If they couldn’t even beat Cleveland, a team that failed to get one win against Golden State, how would they have gotten four against the Warriors?
All in all, the Celtics had a tremendous 2017-18 season, especially considering they lost Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. But they had as much of a chance to beat the Warriors as I do to become a millionaire this year.
None. None at all.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference