The Boston Celtics exited the previous season on a familiar route. They bowed out in the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four years, either by playing below par or blowing a crucial series lead.
What keeps the Celtics’ stock high, though, is they have remained young during that four-year span without sacrificing the necessary firepower. Their championship window is still pretty open, as led by the ever-improving tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who, at 22 and 24 years old, respectively, are already good enough to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league.
There’s no telling how far the young 1-2 punch can evolve now that they have another season under their belts, especially since the clog at the forward spot is gone after Gordon Hayward bolted for the Charlotte Hornets. Tatum and Brown will also be surrounded by a competitive supporting cast, one that has plenty of promising or experienced talent across the board.
Let’s get into the predictions.
They won’t miss Kemba Walker
Though a tad lower than the Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard tier, Kemba Walker is among of the most consistent high-scoring point guards over the last several years. He now has five-straight seasons averaging 20 or more points per game.
It’s tough that he hasn’t fully recovered from his knee injury from almost a year ago, which he played through for dozens of games, including the bubble. It was announced earlier this month that Walker will be sidelined until January, at the very least.
But, ultimately, yes, it doesn’t feel like he will be missed by the Celtics. It’s not a shot on his abilities, it’s simply about the collection of talent in Boston. Aside from Tatum and Brown being well-positioned to be a high-scoring duo, there’s a group that can provide damages on various areas: All-Defensive team member Marcus Smart, bruising center Daniel Theis, veteran floor general Jeff Teague, first-round draftees Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard, and free agent signee Tristan Thompson.
Expect the Celtics to regain their top 3 spot in the East standings with or without Walker’s services.
At certain points, Jaylen Brown will be the team’s overall leading scorer
Jaylen Brown isn’t exactly hiding behind Tatum’s shadow, but he’s often overlooked because of the latter’s enormous potential. There’s a chance that they’ll be on the same level this season – not due to Tatum regressing, but due to Brown breaking out further.
Brown will benefit the more from being Hayward out of the picture and Walker gone for some time, as he will have an increased workload while Tatum will mostly maintain the one he had.
I won’t go as far as saying Brown will lead the team in scoring by regular season’s end, but I believe he and Tatum can both be in the mid-20s PPG rate, and that they may be the most prolific scoring duo in the league.
They won’t return to the Eastern Conference Finals
After all those praises, it’s a little confusing to suddenly predict a somewhat premature playoff exit, right? Well, mixed in all of those positive are some lingering reasonable doubts.
Let’s look at the top three competitors, which they may likely face in the conference semifinals:
Yes, for all we know, the Nets will be a chemistry disaster, but it’s Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. It’s hard to go against two champion superstars with a supporting cast that already made the playoffs by themselves.
The Celtics haven’t solved their Bucks puzzle for two years now. The match-up stands at 3-8 in favour of Milwaukee since the 2018-19 season, which includes that backdoor, 4-1 sweep in the 2019 playoffs.
The Celtics won the previous season series, 2-1, but the Heat made some adjustments and flipped the switch in the playoffs. Boston lost in the 2020 ECF, 4-2, literally and figuratively appearing to be two steps behind. Also, remember how they chased around Heat rookie Tyler Herro, only to give up 37 points?
For now, the Philadelphia Sixers are the only top East contender that the Celtics can be trusted upon, even the Toronto Raptors will be an iffy match-up given how the 2020 ECSF still went the full distance despite Boston jumping into a 2-0 lead.