Four biggest obstacles to Celtics winning 2024 NBA Finals

Four biggest obstacles to Celtics winning 2024 NBA Finals originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Celtics just wrapped up one of their best regular seasons in team history, which is pretty impressive considering the success this franchise has enjoyed since the 1940s.

The Celtics finished with an NBA-best 64-18 record, seven wins ahead of the next-best team and 14 wins better than the second-place team in the Eastern Conference. Boston set team records for offensive rating, net rating, scoring margin, 3-point shots made and fewest turnovers.

Even though the Celtics are the favorites to win the NBA Finals and claim a record 18th championship, there are plenty of potential obstacles that could derail the team's postseason journey.

Here's an in-depth look at four of the most notable.


This one is obvious, right?

The Celtics have been fairly lucky in regards to injuries this season. Jayson Tatum played in 74 of 82 games. Just seven of the league's top 20 scorers played more games than Tatum. Derrick White played in 73, Jaylen Brown in 70, Jrue Holiday in 69 and Al Horford in 65. Kristaps Porzingis was limited to 57 games but he avoided any major injuries and is ready to go for the playoffs.

Injuries are always a factor in the playoffs to some degree, though, and Game 7 of the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals is a great example. Tatum sprained his ankle 26 seconds into the game and it had a hugely negative impact for the Celtics in their loss to the Heat.

It's impossible to predict injuries, but if they do occur, other players need to be able to step up.

3-point shooting goes cold

The Celtics are one of the most prolific 3-point shooting teams in league history.

They hit 1,351 3-point shots this season -- 12 fewer than the league record set by the Golden State Warriors a year ago. Boston ranked second in 3-point shooting at 38.8 percent, trailing only the Oklahoma City Thunder (38.9 percent).

The Celtics had a 54-9 record this season when hitting 15 or more 3-pointers in a game, per Stathead. The C's were 10-9 in the 19 games during which they made 14 or fewer 3-pointers. Seven of those nine losses when the Celtics hit 14 or fewer 3-point shots came against playoff teams (Denver twice, Orlando, Indiana, L.A. Clippers, Minnesota and Milwaukee).

In the 2023 playoffs, the Celtics were 9-2 when they made 15 or more 3-pointers in a game. They were 2-7 when hitting 14 or fewer 3-point shots.

If the Celtics hit 3-point shots at a rate similar to the regular season, they should be able to win the title. If not, the challenge becomes much harder.

Bad 3-point shooting luck also can come in the form of an opponent going crazy from beyond the arc.

One of the best recent examples came in the East Finals last season when Heat guard Caleb Martin shot 48.9 percent on 3-pointers in seven games versus the Celtics. He hit multiple 3-point shots in every game of the series. That hot streak died in the NBA Finals when Martin shot just 33.3 percent on 3-pointers and made multiple 3s in only one of the five games against the Nuggets.

Closing games in the clutch

The NBA generally defines clutch situations as "five minutes left to go in a game and the score is within five points," although there are plenty of different parameters you can use to define clutch. The Celtics actually had the fourth-best net-rating (15.4) in the clutch this season (using the NBA's default parameters) and were 21-12 in those types of games.

However, too often we have seen the Celtics resort to iso-ball and a lack of ball movement late in games. We've seen Jayson Tatum dribble down the clock and settle for poor shots too many times as well.

This season the Celtics as a team shot 3-of-15 in the final 10 seconds of a game (fourth quarter or overtime) when they were tied or trailing by three or fewer points (so basically a one-possession game). In those situations, Tatum shot 1-of-7 and Brown 1-of-3. That is... not good.

Tough matchup vs. West champion

The Celtics have a long way to go before reaching the NBA Finals, but if they do come out of the Eastern Conference, a couple of potential Western Conference champions could pose some real challenges for Boston.

The defending champion Denver Nuggets are the only team in the league that won their season series with the Celtics. The Nuggets beat the Celtics 102-100 in Boston on Jan. 19, and again on March 7 with a 115-109 victory in Denver. The Nuggets' star duo of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray outplayed the Celtics' elite duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown by a fairly wide margin in those matchups.

The Celtics shot just 30.4 percent from 3-point range against the Nuggets, with Tatum shooting 37.8 percent in those games. Denver also played much better in the clutch during the season series, which wasn't surprising given its championship pedigree. The Nuggets also have a lot of size and switchable defenders to throw at the Celtics, which not every team has at its disposal.

The Oklahoma City Thunder could be a tough matchup, too. Both teams were (mostly) healthy for the Jan. 2 matchup in OKC, where the Thunder won 127-123 thanks to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's 36 points (14 of 22 shooting), seven assists and six rebounds. The Celtics dominated the Thunder on April 6 but Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams didn't play for OKC.

The Thunder have a lot of size, length and depth. They are one of just two teams, along with the C's, that finished top five in both offensive and defensive rating this season. OKC is a very young team with minimal playoff experience, but this squad is loaded with talent.

The Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Celtics 114-109 in overtime at home back on Nov. 6. Superstar guard Anthony Edwards had 38 points and hit a couple clutch shots late in the game. Minnesota has a lot of size with the Karl-Anthony Towns/Rudy Gobert tandem at center and an elite scorer in Edwards.

The Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Celtics by 37 at home on Dec. 23. They also beat the Celtics in dominating fashion on Jan. 27 at the Garden. It was one of the Celtics' worst losses of the season. They trailed by as many as 36 in the third quarter, and the Clippers' size/length on defense was a problem for Boston. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are two excellent perimeter defenders. It should be noted that Porzingis did not play in either of the two games versus the Clippers.

The Eastern Conference might not pose too many major challenges for the Celtics. The same cannot be said of the Western Conference.

Several of the potential West champs could cause the C's some real headaches, even though Boston would be favored against any of those opponents.