With the Cleveland Cavaliers rampaging through the playoffs, it’s easy to forget that the Boston Celtics wrapped the regular season with the better record. It is them, not the Cavaliers, who will have home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals, which tip off on Wednesday.
And yet, the Celtics aren’t operating under any delusions. They know the Cavaliers are going to be favored—heavily so. And they don’t care. They prefer it. As Isaiah Thomas told reporters after the Celtics’ Game 7 victory over the Washington Wizards on Monday night, they’ll use it as motivation, per ESPN.com’s Chris Forsberg:
“They didn’t give us a chance [against the Wizards]. They didn’t give us a chance when we were down 2-0 to Chicago. We got the No. 1 seed, they didn’t give us a chance,” Thomas said after scoring a team-high 29 points in Monday’s Game 7 triumph over Washington.
“They don’t ever give us a chance, and we just keep going; we don’t care about what others say.”
There is a ton of hyperbole here. Indeed, people wrote off the Celtics after they fell into a 2-0 hole against the Chicago Bulls in Round 1. But they weren’t dismissed entirely when going up against the Wizards.
As it pertains to the Cavaliers specifically, yes, the Celtics are afterthoughts. They were crucified by many for not making an addition at the trade deadline, because they clearly need a Jimmy Butler or Paul George to compete with Cleveland.
Even after standing pat, though, the Celtics were always the best team to make it this far, to be that last obstacle between the Cavaliers and another NBA Finals berth. No one expects them to win, and they probably won’t win, but they are deeper and better coached and more versatile than any other team in the East.
The best chance the NBA had at airing an interesting Conference Finals always lied with the Celtics. Now, they get to show us why.