Celtics

NBA Analysis: Celtics Still Eastern Conference Favorites

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Amidst the interminable attention paid to the Miami Heat and the buzz surrounding the upstart Chicago Bulls, it’s not surprising that the Boston Celtics are a sometimes forgotten team.

The C’s had their day in the sun. For the season following Danny Ainge’s cobbling together of the Big Three, they were the focus of many a SportsCenter lead highlight. Although none of the attention showered on them comes even close to what the Heat have dealt with, they were indeed the story of the NBA in 2007-2008.

They won a title that year and since then have become the grizzlied veterans of the East. They had a down year in their title defense, leading many to permanently write them off, but a return trip to the Finals and a seven game defeat at the hands of the Lakers in 2010 showed that the squad still has juice.

In 2010-2011, it seems to me that the Celtics have, in some ways, been reduced to an existence in the eyes of many of simply acting as a foil for the now more interesting Heat and Bulls.

With the Heat, you have the parallels between the new Big Three and the old Big Three. On Boston’s side, you have a group of savvy old veterans, getting by on guts and guile, while Miami overwhelms opponents with sheer talent and athleticism. Also, Miami is a new team with new faces all around, seeking to bond and learn each other’s games on the fly, while Boston has played together for years.

With the Bulls, many of the same points of interest exists. Old Money vs. Nouveau Riche, veterans vs. upstarts. Plus, the two franchises are steeped in tradition and the two star point guards, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose, have a budding rivalry borne out a dramatic seven game series in 2009 and resentment built from tryouts for the 2010 national team.

While all of these story lines are certainly interesting and worth paying attention to, I think we are sometimes guilty of forgetting that the Boston Celtics remain the clear favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

Not only do the Celtics have the best record in the East, but they also have the fact that they’ve won eight playoff series as a team since coming together in 2007. The Bulls and Heat have yet to win a playoff series as currently constituted.

I’m sure some will argue that the Celtics don’t have the same nucleus as those previous teams after the trade of Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder, but Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rondo are still lacing up for the C’s.

It remains to be seen whether acquiring Jeff Green will end up panning out for Boston, but not having Perkins does not figure to hurt Boston substantially in potential series with the Heat or Bulls. The Heat lack interior bulk and Green can take on the onus of guarding LeBron James and D-Wade for significant minutes. The Bulls have a much better front line, but Joakim Noah is not a huge one on one threat in the post.

We’re in for a stellar NBA post-season, especially in the East, but please do not forget that the road to the Finals goes through Boston.