With just one game left on the 2022-23 regular season for them, the Boston Celtics are ready for the playoffs. Their final game against the Atlanta Hawks is meaningless, as they are locked into the two seed in the Eastern Conference, and will be playing the winner of the seven and eight seed Play-In Tournament game. The C’s will now be focused on making a deep playoff run for the second straight season after making it all the way to the NBA Finals last season.
For Boston, the second half of the season has been a rather strange period for them. They have struggled at times since the All-Star break, which resulted in them losing their grip on the top seed in the East to the Milwaukee Bucks. That has undoubtedly made the Celtics playoff run much tougher than it would have been had they managed to hold onto the top seed.
Still, there have been signs of life lately, as the Celtics are closing the regular season playing some of their best basketball of the year. There were concerns that Boston had peaked too early this season after their dominant hot stretch, but it’s beginning to look like this team is finding their top form right before the playoffs begin.
Celtics getting hot heading into playoffs
Since the All-Star break, the Celtics have gone 14-7 in their 21 games, pivoting between looking like the best team in the NBA and a top contender that is falling apart. Boston blew some huge leads during a three-game losing streak to the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, and Cleveland Cavaliers, and lost to non-playoff teams in the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz. Safe to say concerns were mounting.
But after losing to the Jazz midway through March, Boston has been playing some of their best basketball of the season. They have gone 7-2 during this stretch, and when they are winning, they are winning big, as their average margin of victory in their wins during this stretch is 17.8 points. It’s not as if they are beating up bad teams either, as they have destroyed the Milwaukee Bucks, Sacramento Kings, and Toronto Raptors during this hot streak.
Regardless of the opponent, Boston has gotten back to play their style of basketball. Their defensive intensity has picked up quite a bit lately, and their offense is finding their way after a concerning dry spell. They are hitting more of their threes, which they certainly take a lot of, and establishing themselves in the paint more frequently, which is precisely what they were doing when the season opened.
The concerns with individual players are quickly being washed away as well. Jayson Tatum, who is hitting just 32.8 percent of his threes since the All-Star break, is shooting less and driving to the rim more, which is allowing him to score more points and get to the free throw line more often. When Tatum can consistently get to the charity stripe, he is almost impossible to slow down.
Behind Tatum, the other supporting cast players are also coming out of offensive slumps that had been slowing this team down. Marcus Smart is finding his way on both sides of the ball, Robert Williams III is getting more involved on offense, and guys like Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard are finally finding their shots now that they are getting more playing time.
It takes a full roster of players operating at a high level to go on a Finals run, and for a point in time, Boston was relying way too heavily on Tatum and Jaylen Brown to do everything for them on offense. This team is at their best when Tatum and Brown are running the show and getting support from the rest of their teammates. At their peak, Boston’s offense can be found passing the ball all over the floor, creating wide open threes that get knocked down with ease.
Defensively, Boston simply appears to have just decided to start playing like they did last season. They are scorching on offense, yes, but they are also just refusing to allow their opponent to score as well. Since the aforementioned loss to the Jazz, the C’s are only allowing their opponents to score 104.2 points per game, which is just ridiculous given how high scoring has been across the league this season.
This is clearly the best case scenario for the Celtics, because they are going to have to be playing at their best in the playoffs this season if they want to win it all. The most likely playoff path for them right now would see them have to go through the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, and Milwaukee Bucks just to make it to the Finals, which is very daunting.
At their peak, though, there doesn’t seem to be a team that can reach the heights the Celtics can hit. However, they have also shown a maddening tendency to completely fall apart during the second half of the season. But Boston looks as good as they have looked since the start of the season, and with a tough playoff slate in front of them, that could serve this team very well.