NBA

NBA Playoffs: Why the Boston Celtics Might Still be the Team to Beat in the East

Despite a tumultuous regular season, Kyrie Irving (left) and the Boston Celtics might be the team to beat in the East in the 2019 playoffs.

After making easy work of the Indiana Pacers in their first-round series of the 2019 NBA playoffs, the Boston Celtics face No. 1 seed Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Bucks have been a tough team to beat all season long thanks in part to MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the semifinal series got off to a great start.

Boston had some ups and downs during the regular season, but those troubles seem to be in the past. As the Celtics look to take care of the series and march towards the Finals, we will discuss why they might be the team to beat in the East.

They have shot creators

In the playoffs, the biggest thing a team needs to win is a variety of stars that can create their own shots. When you have to use players in a specific system that can’t break their opponent down one-on-one, it makes things harder in crunch time. Boston’s offense starts with Kyrie Irving, the All-Star point guard who has a championship with the Cavaliers.

The Celtics also have Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, two up-and-coming forwards who shined in the playoffs the last two seasons. That trio gives Boston a legitimate shot to take care of business in the Eastern Conference.

Giannis is the only big threat offensively for Milwaukee

As good as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been for Milwaukee this season, the Bucks don’t have other consistent threats to make big shots in a playoff series. In Game 1 of the semifinals, the Celtics held the Greek Freak to just 22 points and eight rebounds on 7-of-21 shooting.

He fared much better in Game 2 in a Bucks win, but it looks like the blueprint to beat Milwaukee will be easy to follow for the rest of the series. The Bucks’ bench has done little this series, and Eric Bledsoe has been invisible throughout stretches of the playoffs.

The Celtics’ depth is still a key strength

Despite a tumultuous regular season, Gordon Hayward (middle) and the Boston Celtics might be the team to beat in the East in the 2019 playoffs.
Gordon Hayward is an instant spark off the bench for the Celtics. | Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Boston’s depth has been heralded as the best in the league all season long. Gordon Hayward is starting to play at his former All-Star level, and Terry Rozier has stepped up in the absence of Marcus Smart. Teams tend to shorten the bench in the playoffs, and depth in one area where the Celtics have an edge on the Bucks in this series.

Hayward played 30 minutes in Game 2, and he put up 13 points, five assists, and four rebounds while playing the third-most minutes of any Celtics player. If Boston can get that much offensive output from the bench in each game, the Bucks won’t be able to win the series.

Milwaukee’s Nikola Mirotic played well in the first two games, and he will need to keep up the high level of play going forward.

Brad Stevens is still an excellent coach

When it comes to X’s and O’s, there isn’t a coach in the Eastern Conference as good at drawing up a play as Brad Stevens. When the Celtics need to make a play, Stevens knows what to call at the right time. He put up an excellent coaching performance in Game 1. With the series returning to Boston for Games 3 and 4, the Bucks can end up in a 3-1 hole.

Toronto and Philly could go seven games

As exciting as the Bucks and Celtics series has been, the series between Toronto and Philadelphia has been tightly contested. Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam have both played at an All-Star level this series, and Toronto seems to have the formula to keep Ben Simmons in check.

Philadelphia has an excellent counterpunch in Jimmy Butler, who put up 30 points in Game 2. If Philadelphia plans on going to the Eastern Conference Finals, it needs great games from their four core players. But first the 76ers have to survive the semifinals, and with two talented teams facing off, it could go a full seven games.