Let’s address the elephant in the room that is the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. No, it’s not the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ shoddy defense, the inexperience of the Philadelphia 76ers, or the unreliability of the Toronto Raptors. Rather, it is the two seed that has been all but abstractly eliminated from contention by the mainstream media.
The Boston Celtics, already without star forward Gordon Hayward, have also lost superstar point guard Kyrie Irving. They have been left out of the NBA playoff conversation amongst the media. The Celtics have been replaced by a red-hot 76ers basketball team that won 16 straight to end the regular season. The point begs to be discussed: In a playoff bracket that holds little to no playoff experience, why is Boston’s proven reputation being underestimated?
Why has this happened?
Before anyone points out that this C’s squad is rather young with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Shane Larkin, and Terry Rozier, or that this team is practically a complete reset of last season’s ECF roster, let it be known that this is the Eastern Conference. A conference that has only been won by three teams in 11 of the last 12 years (Cavaliers, Heat, Celtics). Nine of those 11 have been won by teams with Lebron James and/or Dwyane Wade on their roster. So let’s just say this isn’t a conference that is filled with parity, at least regarding the top dogs. Any and all experience in the past 2-3 years (an advantage Boston has over Philly) is highly valued in the East.
However, despite all this, the hype train has left a consistent, 55-win Celtics team behind. That train has coupled onto a Philadelphia team that racked up 16 straight wins heading into the playoffs. They are now predicted to beat the C’s in the second round and march to the Eastern Conference Finals to eventually face the uber-experienced Cavaliers.
You read that right
Yes that’s right, the 76ers are the favorites to face the Cavs in the ECF. The 76ers team that has not been to the playoffs since 2011-12 and that has not been a 3rd seed or higher since Allen Iverson was stepping over Tyronn Lue on the baseline. A 76ers team that has their top three players losing their playoff virginity this weekend. This 76ers team is predicted to advance in a playoff bracket that heavily favors 3-point shooting. That is with two stars that do not shoot 3’s. Yes folks, this very same media that has pounded us with “experience wins playoff games” is prepared to proclaim the Philadelphia 76ers winners over the Boston Celtics in the second round before the second round has even begun.
While both rosters have their fair share of youth and experience in the playoffs, the difference is WHERE that experience is. The straight fact is that while the 76ers are arriving to the playoff scene. Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics have the experience and grit built to hold steady through playoff fire and fury. Coaching? Advantage Boston.
Brad Stevens has logged 28 playoff games over the last three years, 18 of them being last season, while Brett Brown has not qualified in five years of coaching. Experience at the helm? Advantage Boston as big man Al Horford has silently been a force for the team. He claimed an All-Star berth and has a decade of NBA regular season and playoff experience in his repertoire. I would say the center has an IQ edge over the more talented Joel Embiid. Boston boasts the 4th-best defense in the playoffs. That is paired along with possibly the best coach in the playoffs. This team has been undervalued, underestimated, and low-balled in every sense of the imagination by the national media.
But wait, there’s more
Look at the basic, fundamental numbers if you are not convinced yet. The Celtics have a winning record of 14-7 without their star point guard. That includes a 6-5 record against playoff teams such as the Raptors, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers, and Oklahoma City Thunder.
It is even clear comparing them to the Golden State Warriors, who also have lost their superstar guard Steph Curry for the first round. They have gone 9-11 in their last 20 without the two-time MVP. Despite having three other All-Stars, the Warriors continue to struggle in a system that is unadaptable without Curry. This is unlike the Celtics who have a coach that continually makes changes. He has tweaked the lineup to favor rotation players like Rozier. He is averaging career numbers in Irving’s absence, to pick up the burden.
Thus, while Boston has faded into darkness and the 76ers have become the bandwagon of the Eastern Conference, let us not forget the true test of contention in this side of the bracket: Experience. Don’t sleep on the Celtics yet folks.