For almost half a decade we had the same matchup in the Finals - Warriors versus Cavs. These teams triumphed in their conferences for four consecutive years and met at the final stage, with the Warriors winning three of those battles. Curry, KD, Klay, Draymond, and co. were just too much for LeBron, but could any other team in that period challenge the Warriors? Marcus Smart certainly thinks so.
The 2018 playoffs run
The Celtics entered the 2017-2018 season with high expectations due to their roster. Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward had a deep supporting cast with young guys like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, along with veterans like Horford, Smart, Rozier, Baynes, and Morris. But the injuries to Hayward and Irving really decimated Boston and their chances.
Still, the group that stayed healthy rallied around each other, going into the playoffs as the #2 seed. Boston would even up their game in the playoffs and push the LeBron-led Cavs to the brink of elimination in the Conference Finals, up 3-2. But the pressure got to them, and the veteran-studded Cleveland team bounced back, eliminating the Celtics.
James was superior in that whole series, averaging 33.6 ppg, 9.0 rpg, and 8.4 apg. On the other side, the future of the C's in Brown and Tatum emerged as the one-two punch that led the team, along with guys like Rozier, Horford, Morris, and Smart all stepping up their game. It was a true team effort that fell a bit short due to their lack of experience and star power.
Smart believes they would have beaten the Warriors
The heartbeat and emotional leader of the Celtics for years now, Marcus Smart has been a part of numerous Boston runs over the years, and he believes this was their best shot to go all the way. While appearing on JJ Redick's podcast, Smart touched on the 2018 team and shared how he felt they could have beaten Golden State:
"We definitely thought that we had a great chance. And to this day, we still thought if we went to the championship instead of LeBron [James] and those guys, we definitely would have beat Golden State that year."
Marcus Smart, ">The Old Man and the Three
The 2018 playoff Celtics team was a great, well-rounded team, but it's hard to imagine them beating the likes of Curry, Durant, Klay, and Draymond. Those were the Warriors at their peak, and even LeBron couldn't get close to beating them at that time. So for the Celtics and Smart to think they would have done any better is hard to believe. But you have to applaud Smart's confidence in his team. You can't compete with the best without that mentality, and with the recent rise of the Celtics, you could see them making some noise this year.