Celtics blueprint for beating each of these Eastern Conference contenders

Nick Friar
April 10, 2019 - 12:41 pm

Kyrie Irving and the Celtics finally got their wish: it’s time for the NBA Playoffs. The talk about “being better” is over. No more concerns about everyone getting theirs. It’s time to flip the switch and win. The real Celtics are here, right?

Whether or not that’s the case, the team is faced with a familiar opponent in the first round: the Indiana Pacers. Anything could happen, after that — assuming Boston wins.

Here’s how the Celtics stack up against the other Eastern Conference playoff teams:

1. Milwaukee Bucks

Season series: Bucks won 2-1

The Bucks are the anti-Celtics, in the sense they seem to get along pretty well with one another. Khris Middleton said earlier in the year on Fox’s Fair Game how the Bucks have team dinners and they genuinely care about one another.

More importantly, they have Middleton and the game’s top young star, Giannis Antetokuounmpo. Combine those two with Malcolm Brogdon and Eric Bledsoe and this team is tough, even without midseason acquisition Nikola Mirotic helping spread the floor.

Boston can’t beat the Bucks without a healthy Aron Baynes to clog up the middle. Also, The Celtics needs to make Antetokuounmpo beat them. He’s good, but he’ll have a tough time shouldering the load alone, especially if the Celtics produce offensively like they normally do.

If the Celtics win the first round, this matchup will almost certainly happen — barring a 2018 UCMB over Virginia-level upset.


2. Toronto Raptors

Season series: Tie 2-2

Toronto embarrassed the Celtics when they last played in February. Unlike their matchups with the Bucks, the Celtics always appeared to have a strong chance of success against the Raptors. Looking back to their last matchup in February — which was amid one of Boston’s miserable stretches — Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward weren’t playing nearly as well offensively as they have been since.

To that point in the year, Brown was shooting 45.2 percent from the floor and 32.4 from deep. Since, he’s 50.5 and 40.5, respectively. Hayward was sporting a 43.4 field goal percentage at the time and has a 57.7 percent success rate since.

Those two would make a huge difference in this series. Toronto’s home-court advantage makes it tough, but not impossible if Brown and Hayward shoot like they have of late.

The Celtics also need a healthy Marcus Smart, perhaps in this matchup more than any other.


3. Philadelphia 76ers

Season series: Celtics won 3-1

The one game the Celtics lost to this faux third seed was a result of an Aron Baynes injury and a Marcus Smart ejection. The C’s should have overcome both problems, but the point is it took extenuating circumstances for the 76ers to win. On one hand, a win like that may be all Philly needed to find their confidence against Boston going forward. On the other, all other signs show the Celtics are the Sixers’ daddy.


5. Indiana Pacers

Season series: Celtics won 3-1

Well, the Celtics have home-court advantage in this series, and we already know that’s everything. The Pacers’ problem against the Celtics is the same problem they’d have against the Sixers, Bucks and Raptors: no Victor Oladipo. Indiana has the go-go motor this Celtics team seems to lack, but history has shown us star power almost always overcomes hustles in the NBA Playoffs — which is a great message for the youth of America.


6. Brooklyn Nets

Season series: Tie 2-2

First of all, the Nets would need to beat the Sixers and most likely the Raptors in order to face the Celtics. You can double check with Merloni Investments if you want, but it seems pretty obvious that isn’t going to happen.

The only way Boston would lose this series is if they took their foot off the gas or turn back into a drama club — which is essentially what’s happened when they’ve lost to the Nets. As clichéd as it is, the Nets can’t win a series against the Celtics, the C’s can only lose it.


7. Orlando Magic

Season series: Magic won 3-0

Another matchup that is practically guaranteed to not happen.

This works out well for the Celtics because the Magic knocked them off every time this year. The second matchup between these two teams was part of the Celtics’ rough losing skid in January.

Again, star power would likely carry the C’s, but the fact they never figured out Orlando all year would make for an interesting case study. A postseason matchup between Boston and Orlando could prove whether or not the Celtics are actually capable of flipping a switch.


8. Detroit Pistons/Charlotte Hornets

Season series v. Pistons: Celtics won 3-1

Season series v. Hornets: Tie 2-2

A few things still need to happen on the final day of the regular season to settle the eighth seed. If the Pistons win their game then they’re in, and they’re playing the C.Y.O. Knicks on Wednesday, so they should make it to the postseason. (Charlotte needs Detroit to lose and have to win its own game in Orlando.)

Neither team is equipped to get past their first round matchup in Milwaukee.

If they were to play the Celtics in the second round, Boston would be better off against Detroit. Kemba Walker was too tough a guard for the C’s this year, whereas Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin weren’t enough to put the Pistons over the top their regular season meetings with the Celtics, never mind a possible postseason series.