The Boston Celtics have had yet another one of their tumultuous weeks, a trend that seems to have followed them this entire season. It goes 1-2 great weeks of basketball, followed by a few bad losses and a negative sound-bite that gets blown out of proportion and leaves everyone coming up with zany conspiracy theories regarding the future of this team.
At the beginning of the year when this first started, it was almost comical to say that this team wouldn’t figure it out and contend for the Eastern Conference Title. But now, as we close in on the All-Star break and things seem to still be in turmoil, well let’s just say it’s not looking great. It was well put by ESPN’s Jackie McMullan when she said the following on the Brian Windhorst Hoop Collective Podcast
“There is something wrong with this team, It’s too late in the season to keep saying they’re going to figure it out. The chemistry is bad. The vibe is bad. And it’s not getting better” – Jackie MacMullan via Brian Windhorst and the Hoop Collective Podcast
Clearly, things haven’t gone as predicted this season but even to the sourest critics of this team, it can’t be ruled out that we might just very well still end up seeing the Celtics in the NBA Finals come June. In the eyes of many NBA analysts, they are still, in fact, the favorites in the East.
There’s one other team that has been getting some new chatter that they might actually be the frontrunners now, and that is the Philadelphia 76ers. With the recent addition of Tobias Harris to their starting five, the Sixers have pretty much told the rest of the conference that they are all in on this season. It’s NBA Finals or bust for them.
It’s what makes tonight’s matchup in Philadelphia so intriguing. It will be the first time this new look Sixers’ team will matchup against the team that has been their nemesis in the East over the past 2 seasons. Boston took them down 4-1 in last year’s Eastern Conference Semi-finals and have taken both games so far this season.
We all know Kyrie Irving will be out with a knee injury, but it still looks to be a major statement game for the Celtics, for better or worse.
If the Celtics can go into Philadelphia and beat this newly formed “Phantastic 5” (lame nickname) that they have formed in Philly, it could be a giant momentum shift for this team. In fact, if I were a betting man, I would almost surely bet the Celtics in this game. Only for the simple reason that almost every time they have suffered a string of losses against sub-par teams, they usually back it up with an impressive victory over a real contender. It’s almost like it’s part of this team’s DNA and what makes them so insanely frustrating to watch at times.
It won’t be an easy task; the Sixers have had two impressive victories since they formed this new team. An impressive win over the 2nd seeded Nuggets, and a blow-out win over the LA Lakers who just beat the Celtics with a buzzer beater less than a week ago.
Another thing to factor in, the “we don’t need Kyrie Irving” talk will become deafening if the Celtics can come away with a win tonight. I’m certainly not of the camp that supports that theory, especially when he goes out the other night vs the LA Clippers and the Celtics blow a 28-point lead. But it will go a long way in supporting the narrative that this team plays better overall without him on the floor and which is another reason I feel a win in Philadelphia tonight is imminent. This team seems to attract turmoil, and while a win tonight will be great, it will add a whole new layer to that department.
Simply put though, if the Celtics can withstand Philadelphia’s best shot tonight and leave with a win, it will be hard to not keep them as a favorite still in the East. While every top team in the conference like the Bucks, Raptors, and Sixers all got better, it still feels like its inevitably the Celtics conference to lose. And if they do end up losing, I don’t believe it will be because they are outmatched by anyone. It will be because they end up beating themselves.