If you’ve followed basketball at all over the past season, or even two seasons, you’d wonder what the point of the regular season and first couple rounds of playoffs are. I mean, talk to anyone who digests the sport and you’ll hear that the Golden State Warriors are the best team (and to be fair, they did just put up the best regular season record of all time and are the defending champs) and that the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers are second and third favourites, in whichever order you prefer. So basically the Cavs will cruise to the NBA Finals and either play the Warriors or the Spurs. Everyone says it, so it’s going to happen that way, isn’t it?
Well, if I’m being totally honest, it very well could. These three teams are the best teams in the NBA. With so many superstars in their ranks, it’s even in the NBA’s best interests to have them square off against one another. But for the dreamers among us, for those of us who believe in magic and underdogs, allow me to introduce you to a sleeper in each conference that could potentially stir up the plot.
We’re looking at a team that can make headlines. The Boston Celtics have tenacious defence, great coaching, excellent roster depth and variety, and they play in front of a roaring crowd in a town accustomed to winning in sports.
Their defence is no joke: with a rate of 100 points per 100 possessions, the Celtics rank fourth in the NBA for defence, despite playing at the third-fastest pace in the NBA. The players all work for one another on the defensive side of the ball. Head coach Brad Stevens has inserted a powerful mentality in the squad, and players like Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, and Avery Bradley are recognized as some of the most ferociously competitive in the NBA.
It’s a philosophy that has poured through into every player. The squad boasts a level of athleticism that makes us mere mortals sick. Evan Turner’s 6th-man role or the ability to rotate around bigs with varying skill-sets in the form of Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson is a force to be reckoned. Finally, the Boston crowd is raucous and as good of a fan-base as you could hope to have.
Where could it go wrong:
The team is inexperienced in playoffs and is perhaps lacking the one superstar player to take them to the next level.
In the absolutely loaded Western conference, it’s hard to say there’s a real “sleeper” team, unless you want to be very bold and call the decimated Grizzlies winning it or something like that. I’m going to stick my neck out here and say the Los Angeles Clippers can do big things this year.
Many thought the team would struggle to keep their spot near the top after Blake Griffin went down for an extended period, but that may end up being just what they needed. It allowed Chris Paul extended time running the show, and it brought his game to the next level – the Clippers have admitted they will only go only as far as the mercurial CP3 takes them.
DeAndre Jordan got more time in the spotlight as well, and Griffin might have returned at the right time (who knows how important his fresh legs might be down the stretch?). The team finally has depth (especially on the perimeter) this year, with Jamal Crawford and Jeff Green on the second unit. Doc Rivers is as experienced a coach as you could ask for, too.
Where could it go wrong:
They seem perennial underachievers and if Griffin’s return overpowers how well others played in his absence, it might be another year of playoff heartbreak for the Clippers.
Look, these are certainly big calls. I might look like a fool after round one of the playoffs. The Warriors, Spurs, and Cavs are all loaded with Hall-of-Famers and are phenomenal teams. But just like I listed question marks for the Celtics and Clippers, they exist for the big three contenders as well.
Do the Warriors maintain the hunger and intensity from their record-setting season? Do the Spurs have the legs in an old squad for a full playoff push? Do the Cavs have the chemistry? No team is perfect, and that’s what is going to make these playoffs great. Let’s sit back and enjoy…and up the Celtics and Clippers (for my reputation’s sake).