Projecting the toughest NBA Finals opponents for the Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Clippers
Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Clippers / Meg Oliphant/GettyImages

The Boston Celtics have been a juggernaut this NBA regular season and find themselves sitting pretty at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Celtics are the favorites in the East, but that by no means guarantees anything. The Cs have some issues they need to work out before thinking about the NBA Finals, and they’re bound to run into some tough matchups in the East. 

Let’s say everything goes the Celtics way and they find themselves in the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons. What teams would be the scariest opponents for the Celtics to match up against as they search for banner 18? Out of the four top teams in the Western Conference, two stand out the most.

Denver Nuggets

The first, and obvious, team the Celtics should hope not to see in June would be the reigning champion Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets swept the season series against the Celtics this year, beating them 102-100 in January and 115-109 earlier this month. 

In their first loss to the Nuggets, the Celtics really struggled to shoot the ball from deep, going 14-44 (31.8%), which, as we know, is when the Celtics look their worst. However, the Nuggets also really struggled from three that game, shooting 8-31 (25.8%). 

So what went wrong? On paper, there are no large discrepancies in any major stat, besides the Nuggets shooting 51.9% from the field in comparison to the Celtics 42.7%. Well, it came down to the stars, and Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic were shining bright that game while Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown did quite the opposite. 





















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This ended up being the Celtics first home loss of the season, and just one of three losses total up until this point. Now, gig games, like this one, have been an area of criticism for Tatum in the past, despite him also having some amazing performances in crucial games. If you wanted to take something positive from that game, despite the major difference in how the stars played, the Celtics only lost by 2. This speaks volumes about the supporting cast around Tatum and Brown.

In the second matchup, both teams struggled to shoot from deep yet again. The Celtics were 11-38 (28.9%), while the Nuggets went an abysmal 4-21 (19%). But again, that didn’t hold the Nuggets back from sweeping the season series against the Celtics.

Murray and Jokic both had great games again, but this time, Jaylen Brown countered with what might have been the best game he’s played all season. He ended up with 41 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 assists while shooting 16-29 from the field. Tatum, on the other hand, had shot 5-13 and scored just 15 points. This shouldn’t be labeled “Tatum disappears in big games,” as he just took a back seat to Brown, who clearly had the hot hand. 

This time where the Celtics faltered the most, outside of three point shooting, was free throws. They shot 16-25 (64%) from the line, with all but two misses coming from Brown, who was 7-14. In a game that ended in a six point win for the Nuggets, those free throws ended up really costing the Celtics.

The other glaring issue from that game was that Kristaps Porziņģis simply could not defend Jokic in the post. When the ball was given to Jokic downlow, it was almost guaranteed two points for him or an assist. This is something the Celtics will have to make changes for in a possible best of seven series.

It might feel like the Celtics mostly lost to themselves in those two games, but the Nuggets are reigning champions for a reason. They know how to win big games against good teams and are clearly doing things right against the Celtics.

Los Angeles Clippers

As mentioned earlier, the Celtics have only lost three games at home this year. Once to the Nuggets, once to the Los Angeles Lakers, and once to the Los Angeles Clippers. Unlike the loss to the Nuggets, this one was by a large margin. 19 to be exact.

The fear of this potential series comes more from how their players match up against the Celtics. Where a lot of teams struggle to have defensive answers for both Tatum and Brown, the Clippers can easily stick Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on either of them and not be overly stressed.

While their depth might not be as good as the Celtics, it’s still nothing to scoff at. They have six players who average 11 or more points and a total of 12 players who average 5 or more. Of course, rotations will be smaller come playoff time, but the Clippers entire unit can be dangerous.

The Clippers rank sixth in offensive rating; they’re in the bottom half of defensive rating, where they rank 18th. But during the playoffs, there defence is almost guaranteed to take a leap forward. While the Clippers may not pose as much of a threat to the Celtics as the Nuggets, their mix of talent and experience can cause issues for any team. It’s for those reasons that they made this two team list over the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves. 

Why not the Thunder or Timberwolves? 

Yes, if the Thunder can make it out of the West, that would be one heck of a series, as they have also beaten the Celtics this year. But they are young, which cannot be overlooked, and they haven’t played in Boston this year. However, they do play at TD Garden on April 3rd in a must see game. The Thunder are one of the best teams in basketball and will be for the foreseeable future, but for now, the Celtics should be afraid of more veteran teams, but this thought is subject to change.

As for the Timberwolves, they have had two really fun games against the Celtics this season that both went to overtime and saw them split the season series one game apiece. However, during a seven game NBA Finals series, Rudy Gobert and the Timberwolves defence can be schemed against a lot easier. When you throw in Kristaps Porziņģis and the spacing he provides, it can really nullify the powerful presence Gobert brings down low. Porziņģis is also able to matchup a lot better on defence with Gobert than he can with someone like Jokic.