Tomase: One day soon the Celtics will own Boston, and it all starts Tuesday night

John Tomase
October 16, 2018 - 1:42 am
Celtics starters

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The Red Sox stand only seven wins from the World Series after an historic regular season. The Patriots just beat the "best" team in the AFC and might be Super Bowl favorites again because, my God, this run is never going to end.

And yet for my money, the most exciting team in Boston hasn't even started playing yet. That changes on Tuesday night.

The Celtics raise the curtain on the 2018-19 season at home against the Sixers, and there's a legitimate chance they'll be raising a banner when all is said and done.

The Celtics are stacked, loaded, and ready to do damage, as their baseball brethren across Storrow Drive like to say. There hasn't been this much anticipation for a Celtics team since Larry Bird retired and yeah, that includes the New Big Three in 2007, because who saw that coming?

Those Celtics materialized in the blink of an eye and Bewitched twitch of Danny Ainge's nose. Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett were already in their 30s by Halloween. No one had ever built a champion that way, but multiple clubs have enacted the blueprint since.

The Celtics, meanwhile, tackled an even more challenging rebuild. What Ainge and his staff have accomplished over the last five years without tanking is nothing short of breathtaking, and the next phase starts now.

Put in basketball terms: the team's trajectory mirrors the arc of a Kyrie Irving 3-pointer, and all that's left is swish.

Five years ago, Brad Stevens emerged from the cornfields of Indiana to become the youngest coach in the league. He inherited a mess of a roster that had just cleared Pierce and Garnett off the books to begin a lengthy rebuild.

Some truly forgettable players suited up, from Vander Blue to MarShon Brooks to Keith Bogans to Chris Babb. Phil Pressey passed for hope.

Within a year, Isaiah Thomas arrived to remake the culture and lead the C's to a shocking playoff berth. A year later, they won 48 games and pushed the Hawks in the first round. A year later, they earned the No. 1 seed and stole a game from the Cavaliers in the conference finals.

Then came last year. After losing Gordon Hayward five minutes into the season, they reeled off 16 straight wins. Led Irving, rookie Jayson Tatum, and second-year man Jaylen Brown, they played some of the most exciting basketball in the league, with wins over the Warriors, Rockets, and Cavs, among others.

They took Cleveland to Game 7 without Irving or Gordon Hayward, their two superstar acquisitions, instead pureeing the rotations in a Vitamix and pushing Stevens' considerable creativity to the limit.

Now everyone's healthy and the possibilities feel limitless. They're the favorites in the East and a legitimate threat to dethrone the two-time defending champion Warriors.

The excitement stems from the sense of inevitability that has only grown since Al Horford joined Thomas in 2016 before the 2017 lottery came up green.

We've watched the C's progress over the last five years, their win totals increasing each season from the low of 25 to last year's high of 55. We obsessed over Danny's plans for the Brooklyn picks, and he eventually turned them into Brown, Tatum, and Irving. He added Hayward, allowed Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier to develop, and filled the rest of the roster with excellent supporting players like Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes, and Daniel Theis.

The days of wondering when Ainge would finish building the roster of his dreams have officially passed. This year marks the sweet spot before Irving, Brown, Tatum, and maybe Rozier get paid. The roster will never be this deep again, so sit back and enjoy.

It's scary to consider not only their ceiling, but how much fun they'll be to watch as they pursue it. Irving was already death-defying off the dribble, and now he's playing on two good knees. Who knows what Hayward will be as he clears the physical and mental hurdles of returning from such a gruesome injury, but whatever he provides, especially in the early going, will beat grasping marbles with his toes.

Brown and especially Tatum could take monster leaps. It wouldn't be a surprise if one or both are All-Stars. Rozier, the backup point guard, is a consensus top-100 player and will almost certainly be starting somewhere for big money next year. Smart, the backup to the backup point guard, might possess the most particular set of skills in the league, and yes that's a reference to Liam Neeson in the Taken franchise, because Smart's similarly unafraid to dirty his hands, not to mention somebody else's face.

Horford will ignite and then settle the Average Al debate 35 times between now and June. Baynes shoots 3's now. Theis possesses underrated hands and great instincts. Morris is a rugged defender and decent scorer, though his shot selection generally borders on hateable.

There's no reason to think the C's won't wow us even more than last year, when their buzzer-beaters and thrillers made for a fabulous winter: Rozier's steal and dunk to beat Indiana, the 19-0 run vs. Steph and the Co. in November, Horford's fallaway to drop Portland, Morris's killer 3 to sink OKC, Brown stepping back to knock down a 3 and knock out the Jazz, Smart drawing double charges on Rockets star James Harden, Stevens anticipating and exploiting the Philly switch that freed Horford for the go-ahead layup in the playoffs. Big gulp of air, because that's just extemporaneous.

Simply repeating last year's regular season would be a smashing success, but the Celtics have bigger plans. Their journey to June starts Tuesday.

Along the way, the Red Sox may very well win the World Series and the Patriots the Super Bowl, but forgive me if it all feels like the warmup for one hell of a main event.

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