Debunking Lazy Celtics Playoff Theory; Does It Even Matter?

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The Celtics made easy work in the first two rounds of their playoff hunt, discharging the Heat and Cavaliers in five games each. Carrying an in-total 72-20 record dating back to the Opening Night of the regular season has prompted fairly high expectations and ridiculously unfair criticism.

Since Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown inherited their co-leader roles after their Eastern Conference finals appearance in 2018, the Celtics haven’t lived up to the hype. They’ve reached the conference finals six times, now three times consecutively, but haven’t reached the mountaintop. Boston’s routinely been in the mix, making noise every regular season under Tatum and Brown, but continues to beg the question: when will they dominate?

Last season, the story once again, was about the Celtics and their inability to trample on their less-talented playoff opponents. The Hawks, Sixers, and Heat each exposed Boston as a vulnerable team not cut out for title contention last season. That’s why the front office repolished its roster and went full throttle to acquire Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday. It’s why Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens won 2023-24 Executive of the Year, and it’s why Boston finished with an NBA-best 64 wins as the runaway No. 1 seed.

Now in the playoffs, four wins shy of a ticket to the NBA Finals, the Celtics have gone 8-2, logged seven victories by double figures, and haven’t taken their fortunes — of playing undermanned teams — for granted. A job well done, right? Well apparently, it’s not good enough since the spotlight on Boston has produced a repetitive narrative that’s been overused.

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Here are just a few of the copy-and-paste naysayer narratives that haven’t been captivated enough by Boston’s postseason run thus far:

Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
“Let’s just say they go through the whole thing winning like this. Isn’t that hollow? Doesn’t that feel kind of hollow?” Massarotti proposed. “Look, the championship is the championship. The parade is the parade. But doesn’t the value come in withstanding the pushback? It’s supposed to be about having to fight for it.”

Udonis Haslem, ex-NBA forward of 20 seasons
“Boston, nobody is going to beat them right now. We understand that,” Haslem said on ESPN’s “NBA Today.” “They haven’t been battle-tested. I don’t know if that’s a good thing to get battle-tested in the finals. I don’t know if you wanna get battle-tested in the finals. I don’t know if you wanna be battle-tested by Denver or Minnesota or one of those teams.”

Colin Cowherd, FS1
“The last time they played a game — a good team, not a great team — was the Phoenix Suns on March 14,” Cowherd said Thursday on “The Herd.” “And you think in June you’re gonna meet Denver, OKC, Dallas, maybe Minnesota? Those guys have been in street fights. Intense, playing from behind, defensive players of the year. You got a Lug Dort, got a Rudy Gobert, Aaron Gordon.”

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Rashad McCants, ex-NBA guard of four seasons
“They look like they looked when they didn’t have Porzingis,” McCants claimed on the “Gil’s Arena” podcast. “They looked like a team that could get to the finals and didn’t really deserve to be there, but happened to be there because of injuries that happened in the East.”

When it came to losing Game 2 to Miami and Game 2 against Cleveland, both in non-competitive fashion, there was plenty of room for the critics to chirp. Regardless of how the Celtics tried to justify not showing up, a double-digit loss doesn’t weigh the same as a competitive head-to-head nail-bitter.

Yet, on the flip side, what’s the issue with Boston playing up to the standard they set back in October? In the regular season, when everything was fine and dandy, the Celtics defeated teams a league-high 17 times by 25 points or more. Boston led the conference by 14 games, the largest margin between the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds since 1976, and their 122.2 recorded offensive rating was the highest in NBA history.

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Moving the goalpost doesn’t give a stance credence, it’s just lousy.

“We all wanted this so bad, and I’m just happy we were able to take advantage of this,” Al Horford explained after Boston’s Game 5 win over the Cavs on Wednesday night. “In the past, we’ve been in this position and haven’t been able to close things and this is a sign of growth for our group. So I’m very proud of that.”

Boston can’t control the health status of Jimmy Butler or Donovan Mitchell, but the Celtics can use another team’s misfortunes to their advantage, which they’ve done. Ripping them for doing that is a Porzingis-sized reach.

In 2016-17, the Warriors swept their first three postseason series before defeating the Cavaliers in the finals, in five games. There wasn’t any pushback, no competitiveness, and it was a movie everyone knew the ending to from the get-go.

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Perhaps the Knicks or Pacers will push the Celtics to the edge and help give their playoff run its (evidently) missing credibility.

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