Boston Celtics: Are They a Legitimate Threat in This Year's NBA Playoffs?

Andres CordobaContributor IIIApril 19, 2012

Can veterans like Kevin Garnett bring Boston its 18th title?
Can veterans like Kevin Garnett bring Boston its 18th title?Chris Chambers/Getty Images

What does this year's Boston Celtics and the 1999 New York Knicks have in common?

Both were older teams in strike shortened seasons. Those Knicks made it all way to the NBA championship as the eighth seed before getting swept by the Spurs. This year's Celtics team clinched the Atlantic division title last night with a 102-98 victory over the Magic. We have yet to see what these Boston Celtics will do in the playoffs. In order to know what how the Celtics got to this position we have to start from the beginning.

After last year’s season ended with the Mavericks winning their first championship in franchise history, the NBA instantly went into negotiations in order to have a season this year. In the 11th hour the NBA got a season, albeit a shortened season, but a season nonetheless.

With the new season starting up the Boston Celtics didn't have much to lose as they were an aging team in an Eastern conference stacked with young and dangerous teams. Many people saw them at best a seventh or eighth seed that would be bounced early. The season started off slow with three straight losses against the Knicks, Heat and the Hornets, followed by four straight wins against the Pistons, the Wizards in back to back games and the Nets. From then on out the season was one of streaks with longs of five straight wins as well as five straight losses.

They stumbled into the All-star break with a 15-17 record and not much belief left for an actual shot at a championship run. With whispers of trades and possibly breaking up the "Big Three," the outlook for the rest of the season looked grim. With the second half of the season beginning, the Celtics needed to have a great stretch of games in order to just remain in playoff contention.

Doc Rivers then swapped Kevin Garnett into the center position and suddenly something clicked. Rajon Rondo played like the best point guard in the league, Avery Bradley played like he deserved to be started, Kevin Garnett played out of his mind and Pierce played like he was a young rookie once again, and suddenly they were firing on all cylinders.

They grabbed the lead in the Atlantic division and everything was going great, but then the 11 game stretch hit. The Celtics had to play eleven games against nine legitimate playoff contenders all while holding on to a slim lead in the division over the Knicks. Incredibly they held on and went an incredible 7-4 including two wins over the feared Miami Heat, and just like that they entered last night's Orlando game with a chance to lock up the division.

Obviously they locked up the division last night, so they now look ahead to the postseason. Incredibly, they are at the point where we can ask: do the Celtics actually have a shot to win it all?

Doc Rivers has done a good job to keep this team from sinking to the bottom of the Eastern conference like they should be and has molded us into a fourth seeded team. Rondo is the best pure point guard in the league and possibly the best point guard period. Paul Pierce has started playing like "The Truth" we know and love.

The only question left is: will the momentum carry over into the postseason? Another big question is how they will fare against the Eastern Conference elite?

Last year the Celtics beat the Heat three out of four times in the regular season before bowing out in the second round to the Heat 4 games to 1. That being said the Celtics are a team full of experienced veterans, but that can get you only so far, eventually you need youth to make it deep in the playoffs.

It seems clear that Rondo is going to have to put the team on his back in order for the Celtics to make it far, but is that too much to ask a 26-year-old point guard? My prediction is that the Celtics will be knocked out in the second round.