The Celtics should win the NBA championship.
They have a richly talented, well-rounded roster with players whose skills complement each other. They learned hard, valuable lessons last season on what it takes. They’re in reasonably good health.
Sure, they have their faults — why can’t they see that they’re at their absolute best when the ball moves quickly? — but every contender has its blemishes.
It’s going to be grueling, a gauntlet, and there will be nights when they lose an ugly game and the fans’ faith with it. But I believe this is the time for this group.
They should win it all. I believe they will.
Let’s take a look at each key individual player on the roster and share a thought on their status as what could be a career-defining postseason for some of them dawns …
Jayson Tatum: One of the reasons sports are so compelling is that crushing disappointments sometimes are the precursor to victory and redemption. I’ve always thought the Red Sox prevailed in 2004 in part because of the agony they endured in October 2003. Maybe it toughened them, or made them more determined and resilient.
For Tatum, the painful part of that possible two-part tale occurred in the Finals last year, when he shot 36.7 percent from the field and committed 23 turnovers in the six-game loss to the Warriors. It made many forget all of the times he did come through along the way. He’s a better player this season in part because that disappointment fueled him, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how he deploys his talent and the lessons learned while navigating this playoff run.
Jaylen Brown: I’m treading on Shaughnessy’s turf here, but I have to confirm that when I heard that Brown required five stitches after cutting his hand while — brace yourself for danger! — watering his plant, I too thought of the Irving Fryar incident before Super Bowl XX. Even with all of the success over the past 20-plus years, we’re still conditioned to recall the bizarre incidents that were precursors to past defeats, I guess.
The cut is on Brown’s shooting hand, and we can only wait to see whether it affects his touch. He’s had a sensational offensive season, worthy of a third-team All-NBA nod, and yes, I’ve finally come to grips that Brown going one-on-two in the open court with his me-against-everyone blinders on is a decision that actually ends well on most occasions.
Rob Williams: Just. Stay. Healthy. Is that too much to ask?
The Celtics are a good team when Williams is absent or isn’t right. But when he’s there, at the height of his shot-swatting, possession-saving, rim-running powers, they are the best team in the NBA, and by not a small margin. He brings those elements that no other Celtic can duplicate.
Every Celtics fan cringes when he lands even slightly awkwardly, because he’s so important and such a joy to watch. He has looked like himself lately since returning from a hamstring injury. If he can remain healthy, there’s a darned good chance of seeing these guys on a duck boat.
Al Horford: Since the Hawks were locked in as the first-round opponent, it’s been amusing to see the reminders of the teams’ first-round matchup in 2008. Horford was a rookie with that Atlanta team that took the future champs to seven games, and he had his highlights, including a 17-point, 14-rebound, 6-assist performance in the Hawks’ Game 3 win.
Fifteen years later, he has reinvented himself as a 3-point marksman after not making one for the first two seasons of his career. He has slowed ever-so-slightly on defense, but he remains an admirable, winning player.
Marcus Smart: The reigning Defensive Player of the Year has some rough metrics on that end this season, particularly when it comes to isolation defense. Some of that may have been due to lingering injuries, but the question remains whether he can elevate his game in the postseason.
Smart has improved as a decision-maker on offense, but if he’s not bringing his trademark chaos on defense, there will be a valid argument that Derrick White and Malcolm Brodgon are better options to close.
Malcolm Brogdon: It annoys me that he is not considered a shoo-in for Sixth Man of the Year. The Knicks’ Immanuel Quickley has some buzz because he scored 38 points in a double-overtime win over the Celtics on national television in early March. But Quickley has started 21 games to Brogdon’s zero, and the selfless Celtic averages more points, rebounds, and assists while shooting higher percentages across the board.
I’ll say it again: Had the Celtics had him last year, an 18th banner already would be flying.
Derrick White: I’ll forgive you if someone other than White is your favorite Celtic. But he’d better be in your top three.
White is this team’s glue, a quick-thinking, creative connector on offense and a stealth shot-blocker who deserves All-Defensive accolades.
The Celtics are often at their best when he’s involved, and Joe Mazzulla cannot forget to play him at crunch time.
Grant Williams: Perhaps the biggest mystery heading into the playoffs is waiting to see which version of Williams shows up. I’d say he was an unsung hero during last season’s run to the Finals, but plenty of praise was sung after his stellar defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But Williams has been inconsistent this year, sometimes trying to create off the dribble beyond his ability. The Celtics need last year’s version to fulfill this year’s goals.
Sam Hauser: That Hauser, as colleague Adam Himmelbach pointed out, finished first in the league among all qualified players in defensive rating suggests that from now on we should take defensive rating with an entire shaker of salt. But he does hold up on the defensive end better than he gets credit for, and he is the kind of dead-eye off-the-bench shooter Celtics fans have pined for since … well, since anytime J.J. Redick was a free agent.
Blake Griffin: How is it that these aging big forwards like Griffin and Miami’s Kevin Love become so adept at taking charges as their bodies begin to betray them? Is it basketball IQ? The inability to move out of the way? It’s uncanny, and it must drive opponents nuts.
I suspect that Griffin — an A-plus teammate who has that ‘86 Bill Walton-level of self-awareness about his place — will have a sneaky-crucial moment or two in him during the playoffs.
Payton Pritchard: He probably won’t be dropping any 30-point triple-doubles in the postseason, but his spectacular performance in Game 82 is a welcome reminder that he’s a capable and confident offensive player who was often ready for the moment in the postseason last year. Can’t blame him for wanting more playing time, even if it means an offseason trade.
Mike Muscala: An able and extremely willing perimeter shooter whose defensive limitations will make him playable in the postseason only under specific circumstances. I could see him having a game where he chips in with, oh, 11 points or so in 14 minutes.
Luke Kornet: Who knew coming into this season that he was such a fun player and personality? His goofy dunk celebrations and Kornet Kontest on defense brought frequent amusement during the long season, and he’s a perfectly serviceable backup big who is playable against poor rebounding teams.