The Celtics have pulled off some big wins (and some almost huge wins) this season including victories over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, and Oklahoma City Thunder. Boston almost ended the Golden State Warriors' perfect season, but ultimately fell short in double overtime. The common denominator in all these wins, though? Their opponents were shorthanded.
We'll start with the Warriors, almost the biggest win of the season. The undefeated dubs head into Boston, and C's fans are talking about how "we can end it." And we almost totally did! Except the second of the splash brothers was out with an ankle injury. Klay Thompson, the All-Star shooting guard, was sidelined for the game which allowed Avery Bradley to slide over and guard the reigning MVP Steph Curry. Bradley, who is lauded for his defense, gave Curry a tough night and it was an easy decision for Brad Stevens to have Avery guard Steph rather than Isaiah. But if Klay were also on the floor, how many more threes would the Warriors have poured in? Would Boston still have stuck with them to double overtime?
Then we have the win over the Cavs which ended in buzzer beater fashion, courtesy of Avery Bradley. Cleveland was full strength for this game, but in the third quarter Kevin Love went down with an apparent leg injury. He wouldn't return to the game. The C's, who were trailing at the time, ultimately surged their comeback and stole the W from Cleveland at the buzzer. How much of an impact would Kevin Love have made in the fourth quarter? He only had 10 points and five rebounds leading up to his injury, but this is the only win the Celtics were able to squeeze from the Cavaliers this season, was it because Love had to sit out the final 14 minutes?
The Clippers and the Thunder were each missing one of their core star players in Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant, respectively. Against the Clippers, the Celtics won the paint battle, outscoring LA 42-36. Add Blake Griffin into the equation and you've got a beast to defend, in addition to DeAndre Jordan. In Oklahoma City, Boston triumphed by 15 points over the Durant-less Thunder. It's hard to say he could have changed the outcome, but it fits with the trend: the Celtics can only beat the best teams when they're injured.
I don't necessarily want to believe this trend, but Boston has yet to find a win against the Toronto Raptors (0-2 against the Raps so far this season), and they were swept in the season series by the San Antonio Spurs. Add in that the star-studded Pacers just finished the season series 3-1 over the Celtics and you can can't ignore that maybe NBA stars are just a bit too much for this C's squad.
Against Boston this season, Paul George averages 25 points, and just under nine rebounds. LeBron James: 27.3, 8.3 rebounds, 5 assists. DeMar Derozan? 28.5 points. All these stars have scored well above their season averages against this years Celtics team.
So going into the playoffs, Boston has BPI on their side, but against current playoff teams the Celtics are 14-18 and 9-11 against the top eight in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics will host the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Garden tonight in a battle of the three seeds. The Thunder will be at full strength with Dion Waiters returning from personal leave and Kevin Durant back in the lineup since the last time the two teams met. This is when Boston needs wins the most, as they will fall to the fourth spot in the East with a loss tonight. It's time to prove that Brad Stevens and company can stick with any team, cause right now I'm not convinced.
Topher Lane is on Twitter, @Topher_L. Photo credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images, Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports. Topher Lane 3/16/2016 03:41:00 PM Tweet Edit