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The Mass Media

Celtics Playoff Update

BOSTON%2C+MA+-+APRIL+14%3A+Terry+Rozier+%2312+of+the+Boston+Celtics+goes+up+for+a+rebound+against+the+Indiana+Pacers+during+Game+One+of+Round+One+of+the+2019+NBA+Playoffs+on+April+14%2C+2019+at+the+TD+Garden+in+Boston%2C+Massachusetts.+NOTE+TO+USER%3A+User+expressly+acknowledges+and+agrees+that%2C+by+downloading+and+or+using+this+photograph%2C+User+is+consenting+to+the+terms+and+conditions+of+the+Getty+Images+License+Agreement.+Mandatory+Copyright+Notice%3A+Copyright+2019+NBAE+%28Photo+by+Brian+Babineau%2FNBAE+via+Getty+Images%29

BOSTON, MA – APRIL 14: Terry Rozier #12 of the Boston Celtics goes up for a rebound against the Indiana Pacers during Game One of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 14, 2019 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Slow and steady thus far appears to be the Boston Celtics’s approach to this year’s playoffs; and in beginning the 2019 run with two straight wins at home, it seems to be paying off. Coach Brad Stevens and the team have entered the playoffs hopeful to at least make a return to where they were last year, which was ultimately being held one game back from an appearance in the NBA Finals due to one aging LeBron James and a barely viable Cleveland Cavaliers team. But things are different this time around—LeBron is no longer active in the east, let alone the playoffs. Some key pieces of the Celtics roster, out last year due to injuries, are now in the rotation, and have had the entire year to integrate and fit into the system. Kyrie Irving, the NBA Champion whom Boston traded for last season, as well as Gordon Hayward, whom they pay more than anybody, have finally played their first postseason games in green. Now that the ice has been broken, the vision that Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge must have had when piecing these players together is finally starting to come to fruition.

It was understood by most fans of the Celtics that falling one game short of an appearance at the Finals last year, while without arguably two of their best players, was all but anything to be discouraged about. As a matter of fact, following last season’s shortcomings, a feeling of excitement surged throughout fans and the city of Boston alike. Without all-stars Irving and Hayward, the Celtics were only one game away from a shot at the title. With them? The team’s potential seemed endless, and as such the re-focusing on returning to the same, and even higher stages, was swift and came with a sense of eagerness and hunger. The 2019 playoffs could not have come sooner … Yet just like that, here we are. Reality came fast, and probably a little more harshly than many would have hoped for, but regardless it is what we all, especially the Celtics, have to face, and as is always the case, perspective is everything.

The Celtics, without Irving or Hayward, finished the 2017–18 NBA season second place in the Eastern Conference. This year, with the two stars accounted for, the Celtics dropped to finishing fourth in the East. Did they get worse, or did other teams get better? I would argue the latter, with the Toronto Raptors having acquired Kawhi Leonard this past offseason, and with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers doing all that they can to be heard. The seeding does not come across as detrimental to me. This year’s team definitely took its sweet time in coming together, but as the saying goes, it is always better late than never. The Celtics regular season records against the aforementioned Eastern Conference powerhouses also prove them fit to stand against anyone, and still having Stevens, who took the shell of the team as deep as he did last year, leaves me confident in saying they have one of the best coaches in the league.

Though slowly, the pieces look to be falling into place. Unfortunately, however, for Celtics fans, this sloth-like pace seems unlikely to change for at least the remainder of the first round. Right before the finale of the regular season, one of the Celtics’ starters, and easily the most energetic player on the team, Marcus Smart, suffered a partial tear in his left oblique abdominal muscle, marking him unavailable for some four to six weeks. In the first two games of this postseason, his absence has certainly been felt, and has clearly attributed to slower pace, or to what somewhat may look like a lack of passion. But that is exactly where having a positive perspective comes into play! The Celtics look slow, sure, and statistically have been held to such standards, being the second lowest scoring team this postseason thus far, averaging an abysmal 91.5 points per game. Still though, 2–0, and while the Celtics may face being the second lowest scoring team in the playoffs, they are statistically holding the Indiana Pacers to the lowest scoring average of all teams in the playoffs, an embarrassing 82.5 points per game. In this light, while the Celtics’ offense could most certainly use a pick-me-up, the defense is holding strong, and will only get stronger with the return of defensive anchor Smart. Beyond this, it is hard not seeing his spark on defense lighting a fire under our offense, making for a culmination of everything we would need at seemingly the perfect time. Here’s hoping Smarts’ return is sooner rather than later, as while the Pacers do not pose the biggest threat, we could certainly use him against the Freak in Milwaukee.