The Boston Celtics have proven that they are not scared of anyone in the Western Conference
Coming into this season, there was an overwhelming sense that the Western Conference was going to utterly demolish the Eastern Conference this season. The west was already clearly superior, and then you had the massive talent migration. It felt like the best teams in the west all got better, while the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers were the only ones that maybe made moves to be better than the season before.
When you look at the teams on both sides right now, you still get the sense that the west should be much better. The problem, however, is that things are not quite working out as well as many thought in the west, and the top of the east is staying right with them.
The Celtics are the top team in the east, and are just one loss behind the top seeded Golden State Warriors. The second seeded Toronto Raptors are also just one loss behind the second seeded Houston Rockets. Pretty much nobody will try and tell you those two east teams are at the level of the two west teams, but the reality is that the west teams have not dominated over the east like many expected.
When you look at the Celtics in particular, you see a team that has no problem playing the talent in the west, and their track record more than speaks for itself. The Celtics have done a great job of beating tough teams this season, and they have handled the truly elite in the west.
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They had that early victory against the Warriors to keep that first streak alive, they had the most remarkable comeback win of the season against the Rockets, they recently took down the surging Timberwolves, and they took down both the Spurs and the Thunder in their first big winning streak.
The Celtics have defeated five of the top six teams in the west, with the lone exception being the Trailblazers, who they have not played at all.
Obviously the playoffs are a different story, and winning regular season games will only mean so much. Nevertheless, these are the only games we have to work with now, and it is abundantly clear that the Celtics believe in their ability to beat any team in the league. The Celtics have not just held their own against the top of the west, they have been borderline dominant against them. When you add on their wins against the Cavaliers and the Raptors, and there is not a single significant contending team that they have not defeated, and it is not even the All Star break.
The Celtics, more so than any other team this season, have proven that they can hold their own against any kind of talent, and any kind of style. There is not a single matchup that the Celtics look at and think that winning this game is out of their power.
The talent in the west is terrifying, but a lot of that talent has not exactly been working out, or it has not improved these teams to the point where they are clearly ahead of the top teams in the east.
We will see how things hold up. A lot of that talent in the west is on a new team, and they should gradually get better as the season goes on. The thing is that the Celtics should also be one of the most improved teams this season. They have been dealing with injuries and have their own chemistry issues. They have clearly struggled at many points this season, but they find a way to elevate their game when they need it most this season.
The Celtics know they are a work in progress, and the Gordon Hayward injury means they will have to wait until this roster is at its absolute best. Fortunately, the players and the coach simply do not care. They see the team they have right now and they know that they can disrupt and stay with the best talent in the league right now.
Winning a seven game series in the playoffs is a completely different story, but we are at least at a point where it does not feel like the top of the west should blow away the top of the east. How the second half of the season goes will be most telling, but the Celtics are looking like a much bigger threat to the west than anyone was anticipating entering this season.