Celtics 2020 playoff preview: Beantown is back

For the past few years, the Boston Celtics have always been on the cusp of a breakthrough return to the NBA finals.

Just two years ago, Brad Stevens' boys pushed eventual finalist Cleveland Cavaliers to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals without their main off-season acquisitions Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

Since the departure of LeBron James – the Celtics' longtime roadblock to the promised land – out west to Los Angeles, it has been a neck-and-neck war to claim the eastern throne he left behind.

There are still a few challenges ahead for the men in green, but at this point, they are more than ready to take on all comers for their turn at the top.

Current roster composition

If their 2018 and 2019 playoff campaigns were any proof, it's that chemistry trumps pure talent in the long run.

With the controversial Irving gone to the Brooklyn Nets, the Celtics have retooled with another All-Star ball-handling wizard in Kemba Walker, who was traded from the Charlotte Hornets for former bench piece Terry Rozier.

Thanks to more talented teammates, Walker slightly took a hit numbers-wise but was still named to his fourth straight All-Star berth with averages of 21.2 points, 4.9 assists, and 4.1 rebounds in his lowest minutes per game since his rookie season.

Numbers like that are good enough for any other team's primary options, but the Celtics are loaded enough to push Walker down to second fiddle.

This year, it is first-time All-Star Jayson Tatum who has taken the reigns as the team's driving force on both ends of the floor.

At just 21 years old, the 6-foot-8 forward burst into the scene with 23.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.4 steals on 45% shooting and 40% from three.

Quickly developing right behind him is fellow rising star Jaylen Brown, who has normed career-highs across the board at just age 23 with 20.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.1 steals on a 49% clip and 38% from downtown.

Then there's Hayward, who has clearly gotten over his horrific ankle injury two seasons prior with all-around averages of 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4.1 assists on a career-high 50% shooting clip.

Last but certainly not the least, bruising guard Marcus Smart rounds up the Celtics' core as its heart and soul on the court.

Initially known for his notorious flopping antics, the sixth-year guard has matured into a crucial do-it-all sixth man for the team's championship push with career-best norms of 13.5 points and 4.8 assists.

Looking further down the list, there are still numerous other key cogs who make the team run like a well-oiled machine, like Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, Brad Wanamaker, Grant Williams, and the intriguing shot-blocking prodigy Robert Williams III.

This year, the Celtics are as cohesive and well-rounded a team as they can possibly be, with practically no distractions in and out of the court.

For those already penciling in Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks as the kings of the East, not so fast. Boston is right around the block.

Grade: 9/10

Rest-of-season outlook

Remaining games: Bucks, Blazers, Heat, Nets, Raptors, Magic, Grizzlies, Wizards

Looking at their schedule, the Celtics are up for a baptism by fire to begin the season restart at Disney World Orlando with a marquee matchup against the Bucks.

After more tough challenges against top teams like the Miami Heat and defending champion Toronto Raptors, they are then given time to work out the finer details with an easy three-game run against the lower-ranked teams of both conferences.

When all is said and done, it is entirely plausible that the 17-time champion Celtics would finally clinch their first NBA Finals berth in a decade, potentially setting up another grand rivalry clash against the Los Angeles Lakers or other western contenders.

Anything less than a deep playoff run is actually a disappointment on their part, which is saying a lot.

Grade: 9/10

– Rappler.com