After dropping the first two games of their first-round series against Atlanta – the first by one point, the second by 17 – the Boston Celtics are in a precarious playoff position. In fact, if they don’t win Friday at TD Garden, their season is all but over – which wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise.
After all, the Celtics’ ceiling this season was not an NBA championship.
“I think (the ceiling) is (to) play hard and have a chance to steal individual game against the top teams in the league – (and) Atlanta is one,” Celtics radio voice Sean Grande said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “I’m not sure where they fall in the pecking order. It’s certainly top 10 – it’s probably in that seven or eight range – and you probably rank them if you’re going into the playoffs ahead of the Celtics. I think Celtics fans have, I don’t want to say false hope, but a couple things happened. You had the 19-6 run. For (part of) a year, you were the sixth-best team in the NBA without that super, All-Star player – as good a year as Isaiah Thomas had. But late in the year, if you look at the last 20 games, the Celtics had the ninth-best record in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta, Charlotte and Cleveland – these were the best teams in the East by the end of the year. I think that midseason run gave Celtics fans false expectations about what this team was capable of.”
Especially after Boston beat Golden State, 109-106, at ORACLE on April 1.
“They ended the longest home winning streak in NBA history,” Grande said, “but the Celtics didn’t play well on that road trip. They got beat badly by the Clippers, they didn’t play well in Portland and lost that game, and the two games they won, they barely won at Phoenix and the Lakers. So it was not a good trip. I don’t want to say (the win at Golden State) was fool’s gold – because it was a great performance – but I think it blurred the vision to what this team was capable of and how much they accomplished during the season.”
Thomas, who carried the Celtics for much of the year, has struggled against Atlanta. He is shooting just 33.3 percent from the floor (12-of-36) and had just two assists in Boston’s 89-72 loss on Tuesday, this after averaging a team-high 6.2 assists during the regular season.
“In the playoffs, even if you’re healthy, it’s a different game,” Grande said. “You can look at what the Cavs did to Isaiah Thomas last year, and it’s the same thing the Hawks are doing. You got to make somebody else beat you. If you’re Mike Budenholzer, you got to make sure Isaiah Thomas does not beat you, and right now the Celtics don’t have the health to have that other guy.”
While the Celtics aren’t title contenders this year, they could be in the next year or two. Grande believes that the franchise, which already has championship-caliber supporting players, just needs a star player to pair with Thomas.
“If a player goes there, it’s a place you can win,” Grande said. “You’ve got the coach, you’ve got the infrastructure, you’ve got the salary room – so it’s a more attractive free-agency destination to me right now than it is a trade destination.”