Boston Celtics Restart Preview for the Bubble
BOSTON CELTICS (43-21), 3rd in Eastern Conference
Where are they now: It’s all about avoiding the Bucks as long as possible in the Eastern playoffs, and the Celtics have an opportunity to do just that until the Eastern Finals by retaining the No. 3 seeding. That would mean holding off the Heat (41-24), whom the Celtics will face in what figures to be each’s most important contest of the restart on Aug. 4.
The Celtics swept a pair from the Heat in December and January, winning once at each site and doing so convincingly (by an average of 13.5 points), but it should be noted that the teams cannot finish in a tie because of an unequal number of games (the Heat has played one more), so any discussion of a head-to-head tie-breaker is irrelevant.
Even a Celtics loss to the Heat wouldn’t be deal-breaking. A favorable finishing schedule (Magic, Grizzlies, Wizards) awaits if the Celtics have allowed the Heat to hang around.
Boston Celtics First Half Highlights
Seeking a sixth straight trip to the playoffs, the Celtics immediately got everyone’s attention with a 10-game winning streak from Oct. 25-Nov. 15 that was book-ended by wins over the two reigning NBA Finalists — Toronto and Golden State. The club also had five- and seven-game runs, the latter putting them at 37-15 on Feb. 9. But they went into the unscheduled break with just six wins in 12 games, losing their last four at home to the Rockets, Nets, Jazz and Thunder.
The good news was that the club’s core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart remained generally healthy. Even Gordon Hayward put in an encouraging 45 games in his attempt to complete recovery from the gruesome ankle injury that cost him almost the entire 2018 season and limited him to 25.9 minutes per game in 2019. The club’s transition from Kyrie Irving (23.8 points, 6.9 assists in 2019) to Kemba Walker (21.2 points, 4.9 assists in 2020) was relatively seamless.
Boston Celtics Roster Rundown for the Bubble
Roster rundown: The Celtics were among the teams taking a direct hit from the coronavirus as Smart announced he had tested positive on March 19, nine days after the club had played its final game at Indiana. Ten days later, Smart was back on Twitter, assuring Celtics fans he had been given a clean bill of health.
Smart later went as far as to donate blood plasma in hopes it could help find a cure for the disease. Clearly, the illness still has his full attention.
“It really scared me because no one really knows the extent of this virus,” he said earlier this month. “So who is to say that even now that I have the antibodies, the virus is gone, how is this going to affect me in the long run five years from now?”
Smart entered the NBA bubble healthy, but Walker did not. He missed six of Boston’s last 10 games with a sore left knee, and clearly hasn’t recovered fully in the four months since, as evidenced by the fact he was held out of practices during the club’s early preparations for the July 31 return.
“He feels better than he did in March,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens positively spinned on July 13.
Boston Celtics Odds Bubble Preview
In the meantime, the Celtics consider themselves to have added a new player since last assembled back in March. That’s what they’re saying about 22-year-old forward Robert Williams, who played only sparingly (23 of 64 games) due to inexperience and a left hip injury.
Playoff outlook: With little incentive (and basically no chance) to catch second-seeded Toronto, and probably only having to play .500 ball to hold off Miami for third place, the Celtics have the luxury of using the final eight games as a second exhibition season. Clearly, the top priority (other than retaining the 3-seed) will be having a healthy Walker come playoff time.
The Celtics will do a lot of scoreboard-watching, with the potentially dangerous Pacers (39-26) and 76ers (39-26) having entered the bubble in a tie for fifth in the East. The Celtics probably wouldn’t mind seeing both pass the Heat (41-24), pushing Miami into the No. 6 slot and a first-round pairing with Boston should it finish third.
Best bets: Celtics (plus-650 on FanDuel) to make Eastern Finals. One key Bucks illness and all of a sudden it’s wide-open in the East.
Celtics-Clippers (plus-2300 on FanDuel) to make NBA Finals. Nobody’s sick (yet), but already the Lakers (one opt-out, one injury) are staggering in the West.