The Boston Celtics were the consensus favorite to win the Eastern Conference heading into the 2018-19 NBA season, but not everyone still is singing that tune.
The Celtics have dealt with a fair amount of struggles through the first quarter-plus of the season and own an underwhelming 19-13 record heading into their Christmas Day matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden. Boston appeared to be righting the ship with a recent eight-game win streak, but it since has somewhat regressed, losing three of its last four.
But despite the Celtics’ inconsistencies, Stephen A. Smith still believes the green will win the Eastern Conference this season. During Tuesday’s edition of “First Take” on ESPN, Smith pinpointed a recent lineup change as a reason to be confident about Boston’s NBA Finals chances.
“I’m not giving up on the Celtics,” Smith said. “I think that a big problem for the Celtics was when Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge worked diligently to reingratiate Gordon Hayward into the mix. He was at a 25-minute restriction initially and now he’s about a little over 26 minutes (per game). I like Gordon Hayward a lot, but that was a real nasty injury. It’s going to take him a couple of years to fully, fully recover from it. But I think trying to get him back into the mix early on cost them because it compromised Jaylen Brown, it compromised Jayson Tatum. And then all of a sudden when they go on this little winning streak, what transpired? Marcus Smart was inserted into the starting lineup. Marcus Smart is just a rough rider, a defender, great at drawing offensive fouls as well. He’s a guy who doesn’t need the ball to be effective. I think that has bode well for them. They go through a little up and down here and there, but for the most part they’ve been better with him in the starting lineup. I am not giving up on the Boston Celtics. I still believe in these boys.”
Smith’s point falls under the umbrella of the Celtics’ premier asset: depth. While excessive mixing and matching obviously isn’t ideal, Stevens has the luxury of being able to get creative with his lineup on a nightly basis. Boston likely will settle into a starting a five once the postseason rolls around, but Stevens still has ample time to figure out which rotations work best for his team.
And at the end of the day, the Celtics are just too talented from top to bottom to see their season end early.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports