The Whiteboard: 3 big questions for the surging Boston Celtics

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

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The Boston Celtics are one of the hottest teams in the NBA, 12-3 over their last 15 games and outscoring opponents by an average of 12.7 points per 100 possessions. To break down their chances of actually breaking through in a loaded Eastern Conference, I tapped in some of the best minds from The Step Back and FanSided’s NBA network.

1. Which Eastern Conference contender should be most afraid of seeing the Boston Celtics in the playoffs? Least afraid?

Jack Simone, Hoops Habit: The Philadelphia 76ers should be the most afraid of the Boston Celtics. In recent years, the Celtics have absolutely dominated the Sixers in the playoffs. It got to the point where Joel Embiid admitted himself that it wasn’t really a rivalry because of how much the Celtics win. Boston is more equipped than any team in the league to deal with Embiid and James Harden. They have Marcus Smart, Al Horford, and a defensive lineup that can switch one through five. That’s Philadelphia’s worst nightmare.

Andrew Hughes, Hardwood Houdini: In terms of teams that shouldn’t want to face the Boston Celtics in the postseason, I think both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls would have a tough time in their first playoff series against a Cs squad whose core has been to two of the last four Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics took the season series against Cleveland and have a rubber match awaiting with Chicago. Regular season results aside, Ime Udoka would have the more experienced team — and thus a fairly sizable advantage — against either squad.

As for least afraid? Well, the Milwaukee Bucks have no reason to be afraid of anyone. They excised their Miami Heat demons last year and the Kawhi Leonard-led Toronto Raptors team that held them out of the 2019 finals doesn’t exist anymore.

Mark Nilon, Hardwood Houdini: The Miami Heat are legitimate contenders that could see some challenges of overcoming the Boston Celtics come the postseason, especially considering they are the top 3-point shooting squad in the association while the C’s are one of the top teams when it comes to defending the perimeter. As for who should be the least concerned about the Celtics in their respective conference, personally, I believe it’s Chicago, for, if they’re fully healthy, the Bulls have enough fire-power and have proven to play well enough as a collective that they can ultimately be the most fearsome team, not just in the East but, frankly, in the entire NBA.

2. How ready are Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard to play pivotal playoff roles?

Jack Simone, Hoops Habit: Payton Pritchard is much more ready than Aaron Nesmith. Pritchard has shown flashes this year with his solid shooting, but Nesmith has struggled mightily. There have been multiple times where he’s checked in for garbage-time minutes and immediately air-balled a 3. Not pretty. And although Pritchard is a great shooter, he doesn’t really fit into Boston’s defensive scheme, which has made them so successful. Expect to see a little bit of Pritchard when they need an offensive spark, but neither youngster should get too many playoff minutes, barring any injuries.

Andrew Hughes, Hardwood Houdini: Aaron Nesmith was forced into a postseason contributor role last season but didn’t rise to the occasion. With the ‘Jays’ soaking up most of the minutes on the wing this year (Jaylen Brown missed the 2021 playoffs) he shouldn’t get too much burn in the second season. Payton Pritchard is a different story. Brad Stevens specifically traded Dennis Schroder to free up minutes for the Oregon product. He’ll be thrown into the fire in the 2022 postseason.

Mark Nilon, Hardwood Houdini: Aaron Nesmith is a player that still needs major developments in his game before he can be relied upon as a consistent rotational player in the regular season, let alone under the bright lights of the postseason. Payton Pritchard, on the other hand, has only managed to impress when given ample time on the hardwood and, since being selected by Boston in the 2020 draft, he’s been one of the team’s most consistent long-range shooters (an attribute any contending organization could use). His specific skill set coupled with his energizer bunny motor should absolutely warrant him a decent chunk of minutes within Ime Udoka’s postseason rotation.

3. Am I wrong to be irrationally excited about more minutes with Smart, White, Brown, Tatum and Robert Williams playing together? (If so, I don’t want to be right).

Jack Simone, Hoops Habit: You are not wrong at all! I too am insanely excited to see those five play big-time playoff minutes together. This may sound crazy, but I truly mean this — the Boston Celtics should be favored over every single team in this year’s playoffs. That’s how good their defense has been. The only potential wrinkle in that statement would be a fully-healthy, fully-available Brooklyn Nets team. Kevin Durant is just that good. But other than that, the five you mentioned plus Al Horford is good enough to take down any team in the league in a five-game series. This isn’t to say that they will, just that they are fully capable.

Andrew Hughes, Hardwood Houdini: You aren’t wrong at all. Derrick White is the most talented all-around perimeter player the ‘Jays’ and Marcus Smart have played next to since Kyrie Irving. I say that because Kemba Walker’s defensive deficiencies kept the Cs behind the eight-ball during his time in Boston. White is rock solid on both ends and doesn’t need the ball to excel. He’s the perfect spot-up threat to alleviate pressure from opposing double teams of the team’s two stars. White, Tatum, Brown, Smart, and Robert Williams is a lineup no team should want to see in the postseason.

Mark Nilon, Hardwood Houdini: No way is your excitement irrational! As we’ve seen from the numbers, Tatum, Brown, Williams and Smart have been one of the best core fours in the entire league on both ends of the floor this season, especially since the calendar page flipped to January. While White may be struggling with his shot this season — something he needs to improve upon if he wishes to help strengthen Boston’s odds of legitimately contending — the concept of theoretically having four quality ball-handlers and playmakers (the Jays have undoubtedly improved in this aspect of their games this year) running with an athletic, rim-rattling specimen like Time Lord could make for a truly lethal and fluid offense, while all five have the ability to lock down their assignments on the defensive end as well. This lineup has the makings of being a high-end, two-way unit.

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