Can the Boston Celtics Recreate the Success of the Iconic 2007–08 Team?

Published 10/17/2023, 8:10 AM EDT

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USA Today via Reuters

The Boston Celtics have been one of the most consistent teams in the NBA in the last few years. Led by superstars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics have been making deep runs in the postseason. However, the team has lost the Eastern Conference Finals four times in the last seven years. Twice to the Miami Heat (2020, 2023) and twice to the Cleveland Cavaliers (2017, 2018). Before losing out to the Heat last year, the C’s made the Finals for the first time in over ten years in 2022. But the Golden State Warriors took care of business and clinched the title.

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Notably, the Celtics last won the championship in 2008 against arch-rivals Los Angeles Lakers. With some interesting changes made to the roster after last season’s disappointment, can Boston emulate the success of the iconic 2007-08 team? Let’s look at how the last Boston team to win a ring performed and analyze whether the current team has what it takes.

One of the best defensive teams ever

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The 2007-08 Boston Celtics are the first super team formed in the modern NBA and are considered one of the best defensive teams. The team had legendary players like Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, and so forth. However, it was a huge gamble from the front office to bring in Allen and Garnett despite their injury-ridden campaigns. Furthermore, both stars were already in their 30s to form a big three with Pierce who was in his 30s as well. A lot of people were skeptical about Rondo and Kendrick Perkin’s ability as starters.

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Most analysts predicted the team would require a year to form some sort of chemistry and also predicted the experiment to fizzle out in three seasons. However, that was not the case. The Celtics hit the ground running and won eight straight games. They steamrolled their opponents and finished the season with 66-16. It was the best record by any team since the Chicago Bulls’ 69-13 in 1997.

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They were unreal on the defensive end thanks to the work of associate head coach Tom Thibodeau who is known for his defensive philosophies and head coach Doc Rivers. Led by the vocal Garnett, the Celtics suffocated their opponents as one unit. From superstars to role players, every player on the team took their defensive duty seriously. The defensive prowess of Tony Allen, Pierce, Rondo, Ray, Garnett, and Perkins was too much for the opponents.

The 2007-08 Celtics’ struggle in the playoffs

The 2007-08 Celtics are a prime example of the popular saying, “Defense wins championships”. Notably, they were ranked first in terms of opponent effective field goal percentage and opponent turnover percentage. Furthermore, KG won the DPOY award for his impressive displays. Garnett’s ability to switch and guard power forwards and centers efficiently was a huge reason behind their success. Also, Rondo took the 10th spot on total steals in the league with 129.

Furthermore, three players, #1 Garnett, #4 Perkins, and #5 James Posey, made it to the top 5 for defensive rating. Also, Rondo was 8th and Pierce was 11th on the list as per Basketball Reference. However, the defensive stability came at the cost of the offense. While four starters averaged double digits in scoring, none averaged 20 points or more. Even in the postseason, only Garnett averaged 20 points.

Even though Rondo and Perkins exceeded expectations, their offensive numbers were a bit off. Notably, Rondo was just in his sophomore season and had not yet developed into the assist machine the fans know of. Also, the bench was not the strongest as well. There are a few reasons why this iconic team is not considered one of the best ever. The first and obvious one was just the one ring. The second was their offensive numbers. Another important reason is their struggle in the playoffs.

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After going 66-16 in the regular season, the Celtics needed seven games to win the 8th-seeded Atlanta Hawks who were 37-45. The trend continued in the next round against the Cleveland Cavaliers led by LeBron James. Despite James’ struggles from the field (35.5%), the Cavaliers still pushed their opponents to seven games. After winning the ECF 4-2 against the Detroit Pistons, the Celtics beat the Lakers 4-2 to win the chip. The Celtics’ 16-10 record in the postseason was the worst winning percentage by any champion in the history of the league.

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Jayson Tatum was the best player for the Celtics last season. He led the team in points with 30.1 and rebounds with 8.8 per game. Jaylen Brown came in second with 26.6 points per game. The two retained their respective spots in the postseason as well. Also, Marcus Smart led the team in assists and steals. However, the 2022 DPOY was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies. On the other hand, the Celtics have acquired star player Kristaps Porzingis who averaged 23.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game last season for the Washington Wizards. Porzingis could very much strengthen the team’s low block.

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Also, the team made another important addition in the form of veteran point guard Jrue Holiday. The 2021 NBA champion is certainly an upgrade to Marcus in terms of dictating the game and distribution. Furthermore, he is also a much better scorer with great efficiency as well. However, his age (33) could be a bit of a concern. Also, another huge concern for the team is the support from the bench after giving up Malcolm Brogdon. Furthermore, there is skepticism about head coach Joe Mazzulla’s ability to lead the team. Even though he helped the Celtics reach the ECF last year, there are still doubts.

Overall, the current team has very little similarities to the title-winning 2007-08 team. However, there is an interesting similarity about the league. When the Celtics won the ring, the timing was perfect. The Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant era had ended a few years back, the San Antonio Spurs dynasty was in a slight decline, and the LeBron James-Miami Heat era had not started yet. The competition was wide open.

The same can be said about today’s NBA as well. There are multiple strong teams like the reigning champions Denver Nuggets, Heat, Warriors, Lakers, Phoenix Suns, and Milwaukee Bucks. Also, teams like the Dallas Mavericks, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks, and the Grizzlies could not be written off as well. However, there is no clear challenger yet. So this could be a huge opportunity for the Celtics, who have almost all the tools, to emulate the 2007-08 team. Notably, they were also given the best odds to win the title.

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Editorial DisclaimerThe views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of EssentiallySports.

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Written by:

Bagavathi Eswaran

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Bagavathi Eswaran is a senior NBA writer at EssentiallySports, with a strong passion for the sport that started at the young age of ten. As a former college player, Bagavathi has been following the NBA for more than a decade and has found his calling in writing about the sport. With over 1400 articles to his name, his expertise in covering the NBA, as well as other arenas of the sport, is evident in his writing.
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Edited by:

Pragya Vashisth

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