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Television analyst Mark Jackson told the nation what many observers of this Celtics team already knew. During yesterday's win versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jackson commented that Danny Ainge's moves have yielded a team that is tougher, bigger and stronger than last year's crew.

Only four team members returned from the group that went to the Eastern Finals in 2017. Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart are the only returnees.

Gone are Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller, Jonas Jerebko, Gerald Green and Amir Johnson. Olynyk, Zeller, Johnson and Jerebko have size but lack the fire and toughness of this year's crew.

Amir was the usual starter last year, and he has effectively been replaced by Aron Baynes. Baynes gets the nod on grit, and has a slight height advantage on Johnson. Crowder, another last-season starter, has been replaced by Jayson Tatum. Jae never lacked for fortitude, but Jayson has two inches on him and keeps getting more aggressive as the season progresses.

The major difference is in the backcourt. We have gone from a 5'8"-6'2" duo (Isaiah and Avery) to a 6'2"-6'7" combo of Rozier and Brown. Neither Bradley or Thomas lacked toughness, but Isaiah's size and defense proved to be a liability. T-Ro can handle bigger opponents, and Jaylen can handle almost anybody. Ditto for Marcus Smart. Mismatches occur much less often. And this year's team has length, toughness and athleticism to create its own mismatches that put opponents at a disadvantage.

Marcus Morris proved, at least for one game - a big one, what he can accomplish on the court. We heard about his physical toughness and saw it in action against Lebron James. We always knew Marcus Smart was hard as nails and he keeps demonstrating that.


It has been a pleasure watching the Jay-Team, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, develop. As one of our readers, Richard Stk, observed,"His (Jaylen's) calm manner belies the fact he's our third youngster becoming a star right before our very eyes this season!" This pair of Jays keeps getting better, and these young guys will battle any opponent to gain an edge.

And we can't forget Al Horford. Playoff Al has arrived. There is simply nothing this man can't do. Scores, rebounds, defends, passes off and directs almost everything that the Celtics do. When you talk grit and mental fortitude, this man has it in spades.

So yes, this team is bigger and probably stronger
than last year's crew. The toughness in the 2017-18 version was always there but needed to spring forward out of necessity. With Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving and Daniel Theis out of action, this group found itself limited in numbers but not in talent.

They took that talent and paired it with a mental and physical toughness that has brought them to the Eastern Conference Finals. Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens believe in them, and this group is truly starting to believe that they can go all the way THIS YEAR. I am not doubting them.

Follow Tom at TomLaneHC

Photo via Omar Rawlings/Getty Images





Tom Lane 5/14/2018 01:38:00 PM Edit
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