Basketball

Celtics 2021 Season: Can Boston Be Dark Horse Playoff Contenders?

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The hopes for the Celtics 2021 season were very high, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were going to have superstar seasons, Kemba Walker would be an excellent third scoring option, Marcus Smart would continue to do Marcus Smart things, the young guys on the bench would have solid and productive seasons, and the Celtics would once again be a top team in the Eastern Conference and be top-tier Finals contenders. However, the first half of the Celtics 2021 season was very disappointing for Boston. At the All-Star break of the Celtics 2021 season they they were 19-17 and looked nowhere near like a championship-contending team. 

Recently it looks like the Celtics 2021 season is starting to turnaround, in their last 10 games they are 8-2 and now hold a record of 31-27. Because of the rough start to the season, the Celtics have been written off as contenders by lots of people, including Celtics fans. It’s still hard to see the Celtics as top-tier contenders at this moment due to teams like the Jazz, Nets, 76ers, Bucks, and even the Suns who are all having great seasons and look very dangerous teams.

What’s Changing for the Celtics?

A big question right now is what is going right now for the Celtics that wasn’t earlier in the season. There are lots of answers to this question with the first being Jayson Tatum. The young star has been playing terrific during the Celtics 2021 season. He has averaged 30.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists in his last 7 games, including a 53 point performance against the Timberwolves and a 44 point game versus the Warriors. Tatum also notched his first career triple-double on Monday night in a loss to the Chicago Bulls. Tatum, and the whole team, have played with a lot of passion recently which we haven’t seen every night during the Celtics 2021 season.

Per NBA/YouTube

Another major thing that is taking a turn for the Celtics is the play of Kemba Walker recently. He is averaging 17.8 PPG is the 2021 Celtics season, that’s down from about 20.4 PPG. He still is not looking like the Charlotte form of himself but he is embracing his role on this team more. Walker has done a solid job of being a distributor and letting Tatum and Brown do a lot of the scoring. 

How the Roster Additions are Helping Turnaround the Celtics 2021 Season

The new additions to the Celtics roster have also been a big factor in trying to turn around the Celtics 2021 season. The main addition at the deadline, Evan Fournier, has not played that much for Boston due to Health and Safety Protocols. When Fournier has played, he has been a great bench scoring option and can be a major contributor during the end of the regular season and in the playoffs. 

The addition of Jabari Parker came as a surprise to most Celtics fans. There was a lot of doubt originally but after two games of play, he has also been a good scoring option off the bench. It’s still a little bit early to say much about this signing but so far he has been a positive for the Celtics.

What the First Round of the Playoffs Might Look Like for Boston

Celtics 2021 Season Standings

Currently, the Celtics hold the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks are a full game above the Celtics and the Hawks are a half-game above the Celtics. The ideal spot for the Celtics would be either the 4 or 5 spots as it seems like the top three seeds are pretty much locked up. If the Celtics don’t move out of the six seed they would most likely be facing the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. The Celtics won the season series with the Bucks 2-1. The Celtics would give the Bucks a run for the money but the longer you can avoid facing Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks the better. 

The next possible scenario would be a series against the Knicks or the Hawks in a 4 and 5 seed matchup. If the Celtics team from these past few weeks shows up, Boston can come away with a first-round win against either of those teams. If the team that we have seen for most of this 2021 Celtics season shows up in the playoffs, that series would probably go in favor of Atlanta or New York as both of those teams have also been very good recently.

The worst-case scenario for the Celtics would be falling to the seven seed and having to participate in the play-in tournament. The Celtics only hold a half-game lead on the Heat for the six seed right now so this scenario could end up being a reality if the final stretch of the Celtics 2021 season doesn’t go as planned. 

If you are unfamiliar with the Play-In Tournament, it will decide the seventh and eighth seed in this year’s NBA Playoffs. The seven seed and eighth seed at the end of the regular season will face off in a game to decide the seven seed in the playoffs while the nine and ten seeds from the regular season face-off with the winner facing the loser of the 7/8 game for the eighth seed in the playoffs.

Summary

If the Celtics can close out this season in a good way and grab a preferred seed in the playoffs, look out for this team to be dark horse contenders this year. Lately, we have seen a somewhat healthy Celtics team and they have shown that they can compete with most teams in the NBA. These next stretch of games will be a big test for this team and will dictate if they really can be Finals contenders this season.

The upcoming schedule for the Celtics looks like this: On Thursday and Friday night the Celtics have big games against the Suns and the Nets, a 1 pm matchup vs. the Hornets coming up on Sunday, and then another back-to-back with the Thunder and Hornets on Tuesday and Wednesday. All of those games will be must-win for the Celtics. After this stretch, there are only 9 more games left in the Celtics 2021 season. 

For more content and information about the Celtics 2021 season go follow @othceltics on Twitter!

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Sam has been writing for Overtime Heroics since June of 2020, he currently is a writer for the Boston Celtics. Sam also helps run the Overtime Heroics Celtics Twitter account.