How can the Boston Celtics surpass the Cleveland Cavaliers?

(Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The NBA season starts Tuesday night and the Boston Celtics will be putting their new roster on display against the Cleveland Cavaliers. It might be the season debut, but let’s be bold and talk playoffs. Just how well are the Celtics equipped to dominate the Eastern Conference?

The Boston Celtics were near the forefront of this season’s entertaining offseason. They acquired two superstars, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, while drafting a budding star in the 6’8″ Jayson Tatum. The Celtics made decisions to make their team better, and well, time will tell. Saying Irving and Hayward alone will win 50 games would just be silly.

Stacked up against the rest of the Eastern Conference, the Celtics are clearly in the ideal position to make a title push. Unfortunately, they still need to attempt to run through the Cleveland Cavaliers, not to mention the ever-improving Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors — two teams that are undoubtedly still threats to the Celtics’ success.

Yes, Boston might have the most talent out of all the teams, but Cleveland, Washington and Toronto have chemistry from years of experience playing together.

This is not saying the Celtics can’t mesh during the offseason and come out firing on all cylinders. The preseason, albeit meaningless, proved that this group can work together. The offense will be dependent on three people. Whether these three thrive or fail is dependent on trust. The defense is dependent on limiting opponents around the rim and the Celtics need to return to the defense being the backbone of the team. All in all, success is not guaranteed, but it is absolutely expected.

Winning the Eastern Conference Finals is possible; it’s just not likely. What is likely is a deep playoff run from the Celtics in their first year together, mostly in part to the status of the rest of the conference. After scrapping an athletically defensive team for offense and superstars, did Boston cash in a winning team for just another winning team? Not quite. This team has championship expectations written all over it.

Should you, the fan, expect this? No, but here’s why you can act like it anyway.

Unleashing Irving

If you watched Kyrie Irving play in recent years, you know his skill-set. Whether it was his 52-point performance against the San Antonio Spurs, or both of his game-winning shots over the Golden State Warriors, you know that Irving is pretty darn good at creating shots for himself and hitting those shots. Where the problem arises is how he can be a better supporting piece to his teammates.

Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland Cavaliers /

Cleveland Cavaliers

In Cleveland, LeBron James was the clear leader, but allowed Irving ample opportunities to do what he wanted. Granted, Irving wanted to be the leader, so you can already see why he wanted out of Cleveland. With this golden opportunity in Boston, Irving has two stars ready to let him do whatever he wants. Hayward and Al Horford are both passive scorers that have great vision and are trustworthy options for Irving to pass to. They will give Irving the space he needs to operate and support he needs to win.

This season we learned about the tension between Irving and his Cavalier teammates. Not that basketball is entirely mental, but if Irving was uncomfortable or upset with his situation, there is a good chance it would affect his performance in one way or another. Now that Irving has nationally aired his lack of concern for what anyone thinks in multiple interviews, we may see a more confident Irving on the court.

When you look at Irving’s criticisms, they revolve around his non-point guard attitude. His shoot-first, pass-later style might seem like a bad fit, but this is his choice. This is where Irving feels the most comfortable, and in a system where he feels the most comfortable might open up a new door for him. I will not say he needs to learn to pass, but he needs to learn to trust his teammates’ shot as much as he trusts his own.

His supporting cast is solid and he has the entire city of Boston behind him. If the Celtics are going to make it to the Easter Conference Finals, it starts with Irving. If the Celtics want to win the Eastern Conference Finals, it will come down to Irving and a revenge tour through Cleveland.


The Celtics were near the leaders in defensive stats two years ago, and last year they completely abandoned that idea. Defensive-minded players like Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley are wearing new uniforms and Isaiah Thomas is now in Cleveland. Thomas might not have a big impact defensively, but the Celtics did not improve much, defensively, by acquiring Irving. Irving can hold his own on a better scale than Thomas, simply due to size, but the Celtics still need to fill that gap in the defense.

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This is where Bradley would have normally come in. Luckily, the Celtics still have Marcus Smart, not to mention Jaylen Brown, who is being groomed into an ideal defensive replacement. Moving down the rotation, Hayward can hold his own defensively and Marcus Morris is lined up for one thing: guarding LeBron James.

Marcus Morris is one of better equipped players to guard LeBron, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If the Celtics face the Cavaliers for round two of the Eastern Conference Finals, it will take a team effort to stop the Cavs. There might be new faces in Cleveland, but a few of those faces is looking directly back at the Celtics, waiting.

Aside from cutting ties with certain beloved players, the Celtics are sound on just about every front except for proper rim protection. By acquiring LeBron James insurance in Marcus Morris, the Celtics are clearly doing everything they can to make that next step into the league’s super-elite, albeit without a true center. This defense will be put to the test, but certain defensive playmakers will cause immediate results. It also doesn’t hurt that Brad Stevens is at the helm.

It will take a team effort and trust between these teammates. If trust is not established, this team will be a dumpster fire full of isolation scoring and shoddy defense. Best-case scenario has the Celtics winning the Eastern Conference Finals, but a realistic scenario has them pushing the Cavaliers to just five or six games.

Next: 2017-18 NBA season previews, predictions and power rankings

The pieces need to fall for the Celtics to be dominant this year, but the front office has done just about everything to try and guarantee it.