With the 2018-19 NBA season quickly approaching, we're rolling out 30 Teams in 30 Days. Between now and opening night, we're dedicating one day to each team in the league.
Last week we began to take a look at the Atlantic Division. After covering the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers over the weekend, we're shifting focus to the Boston Celtics.
2017-18 season record
55-27 (2nd in the Eastern Conference)
Projected 2018-19 season record
57.5 (1st in the Eastern Conference)
Brad Wanamaker (Free Agency)
Robert Williams (Draft)
Shane Larkin (Free Agency)
Greg Monroe (Free Agency)
3 key storylines
The 2017-18 season flipped upside-down five minutes into the first game when the Celtics lost Gordon Hayward for the year due to a leg injury. Fast forward to March 11 and Kyrie Irving was ruled out for the season, requiring knee surgery to remove the two screws placed in his knee back in 2015. On that very same day, the Celtics were informed Marcus Smart would be 'out indefinitely' with a torn ligiment in his right thumb.
Hayward played five minutes, Irving played in only 60 games, missing the entire playoffs and Smart played in 54 games, missed the first four games of the playoffs and then played through the injury for the remainder of the postseason. All of the players have fully recovered and have been 100% for all of training camp and the preseason. If the Celtics plan to live up to their expectations for this season, the health of Irving, Hayward and Smart for the duration of the year is critical.
With all but two players returning, in addition to a fully healed Hayward and Irving, head coach Brad Stevens has his hands filled with talent. Though figuring out the rotation won't be easy, it's a good problem to have.
You'll likely see a starting lineup of Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Hayward and Al Horford on opening night, but Boston is as deep as any team in the league and Stevens will most certainly mix around lineups to see what works. With Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes coming off the bench, they have a second unit that could compete with some starting lines in the league. Should Stevens opt to go big and start Baynes, Boston will have perhaps the league's most talented 6th man in whomever comes out of that starting five.
Luckily for Stevens, multiple players on the team have spoken the same message: they don't care about who starts and who doesn't. No one is putting their individual agenda over the team's common goal, Banner 18.
Getting back to The Finals
The last time the Celtics went to The Finals was 2010 when they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers. Since that Finals loss, Boston has made the playoffs in each season except for one (2014).
After two consecutive first-round losses under Stevens, the team has found its way to the Eastern Conference Finals two years in a row. With the injuries they were dealt last season, players like Tatum (20 years old), Brown (21) and Rozier (24) grew up fast.
The young C's core, anchored by veteran captain Horford, had LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on the ropes in Game 7 of the Conference Finals before falling just short. While the injuries were unfortunate, the experience that young players received will prove to be invaluable. With Irving and Hayward back, it's time for Boston to take the next step.
5 games to watch
Oct. 16 vs. Philadelphia 76ers
The Celtics will play the Sixers on NBA Opening Night after ending their season in five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals last year. Philadelphia is considered by many a top three team in the East again this year and this will be a battle you'll want to keep your eyes on all season.
With players like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, there is no shortage of star power in the newest edition of one of the oldest rivalries in NBA history.
Oct. 19 at Toronto Raptors
In its second game of the season, Boston will travel to Toronto to face Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors. Toronto earned the No. 1 seed in the East last year, winning a franchise record 59 games; many consider them to be the next-best team to the Celtics in the East this year.
Boston will certainly have their chance to prove their dominance facing two of the conference's top teams in their first two games, with each game as a possible preview of this year's Eastern Conference Finals.
Jan. 26 vs. Golden State Warriors
The Celtics fell one game short of getting a crack at the reigning champions last year. With the expectations around the team this season, you know they'll have this game circled on the calendar to prove that if they reach The Finals, they can win.
Golden State has turned into the highest benchmark for success in this league, and both teams will bring their A-game in their first matchup.
Feb. 7 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
As if the Kyrie and LeBron head-to-head wasn't enough, you can now add a Celtics-Lakers backstory to their matchup. A rivalry that has been fairly dormant in recent years is most certainly back on with the Lakers' acquisition of James.
This is the first contest between the two teams and the TD Garden will be rocking with 'Beat LA' chants once again. After nearly knocking LeBron off of his Eastern Conference pedestal a season ago, the Celtics will be anxious to make their mark in the King's LA legacy.
Feb. 21 at Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks took the Celtics to seven games in the first round last year when both teams failed to win a game on the road. This is Boston's first time returning to Milwaukee since losing all three road playoff games, but this time they'll be playing in the Bucks' new arena.
Giannis Antetokounmpo will be a man on a mission this season trying to push the Bucks to a top seed in the East, making this a great game to watch as the Celts try to overcome their yips in Milwaukee.