The Boston Celtics are one of the most storied NBA franchises with so many memorable seasons, moments, and championships. Along the way, the Celtics have had many great players put on a uniform, and teams come together. With a total of 17 championships and many other terrific seasons along the way, it was hard to narrow the list down to five teams. While some great teams didn’t make the list, I am confident that these five teams listed below are the best of the best and some of the NBA’s greatest teams of all-time. I base this assessment on each team’s regular season and post-season records, iconic moments, and level of competition they faced.
#5 1973-1974 Celtics
Regular Season Record 56-26
Post-Season Record 12-6
NBA Finals: (Won 4-3) vs. Bucks
The first Celtics team on this list goes to the John Havlicek-led 1973-1974 Celtics squad. What made this season so memorable was the storyline behind their success. The team had just come off of an excruciating 4-3 defeat against the New York Knicks in Eastern Conference Finals after being the favorites to win the title. Despite their loss, the Celtics were expected to have a similarly strong season. But that was the complete opposite as the Celtics struggled with chemistry issues. It wasn’t a huge struggle – the team still won 56 games – but it wasn’t on pace to their 68-win season the year before. Questions loomed as to whether the team had truly gotten over their heartbreak defeat. However, all questions surrounding this team were absolved with their championship run.
The 1973-1974 team was stacked. John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, and JoJo White formed a three-headed monster that took charge of this team. Cowens contributed on the boards with an average of 15.7 rebounds per game, JoJo White was a vibrant playmaker, and John Havlicek was a crisp all-around player. The players surrounding this core were also no joke. Paul Silas, Don Chaney, Don Nelson, and Paul Westphal rounded out this rotation, providing a blend of youthful energy and sturdy veteran presence.
Heading into the playoffs, the media and fans alike were down on this team. While they had the best record in a weak Eastern Conference, teams such as the Lakers, Bucks, and Pistons West all looked like equally good or better teams heading into the playoffs. As predicted, the Celtics cruised through the Eastern Conference Semifinals and Finals. However, the finals against the Bucks proved a very difficult task. The Bucks were stacked with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson leading the charge. Heading into game 7, it seemed as though the team was destined for defeat once again. However, Cowens and Havlicek rallied the team in a tough overtime finish. The demons of the previous season were firmly behind this team.
#4 2007-2008 Celtics
Regular Season Record 66-16
Post-Season Record 16-10
NBA Finals: (Won 4-1) vs. Lakers
The 2007-2008 Celtics were the original synthetically constructed superteam. They not only make this list for the amazing regular-season record and championship but also for the blueprint they created for future NBA superteams. Because of this, the Celtics deserve a spot on this list.
The 2007-2008 Celtics ushered the era of the superteams that have continued to form in today’s NBA. “The Truth” – Paul Pierce led the charge. A longtime Celtics and superstar of the early 2000s era, Pierce was the guy that couldn’t lift the Celtics to a championship. Granted he played with some really bad teams and/or played against stiff competition like the 04’ Pistons, 06’Heat, or 07’Cavs. Hall-of-Famer Kevin Garnett was looking for a title after spending the majority of his career with a Timberwolves franchise that didn’t give him the pieces to win. Ray Allen wanted to play alongside other superstars for the first time in his career. People wondered how the moving pieces would fit. With only one ball, would the chemistry truly come together? Who would have to take a backseat and put the team above their stats? Well, the Celtics silenced all the doubt by securing a title against the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers.
What made this season memorable was the tough opponents they played against and the grueling series that impeded their championship path. The first challenge was the Joe Johnson-led Hawks who tested the Celtics chemistry with their defensive presence. The series went to seven, but a great all-around performance by Paul Pierce sealed the deal. The second round found the Celtics facing another game seven against the young, but hungry LeBron James. Again, a monster 41-point performance by Paul Pierce secured the victory despite James’ 43-point performance. Lastly, a tough series against the defensive-minded Pistons was the final task before they could reach the finals. Ultimately, they overcame the obstacles and dominated the Lakers to their first championship in nearly 20 years. This superteam’s iconic playoff moments and ramifications its roster formation had on the league put this team in the top-five.
#3 1964-1965 Celtics
Regular Season Record 62-18
Post-Season Record 8-4
NBA Finals: (Won 4-1) vs. Lakers
The 1964-1965 Celtics were the best team of the Bill Russell Celtics-era. What made this team better than any other 50s/60s Celtics was the collection of players assembled on this roster. Bill Russell was at his prime, dominating the glass with nearly 25 rebounds per game. 24-year old John Havlicek was emerging as one of the league’s premier players. Sam Jones was the primary scorer, averaging a whopping 26 points per game. Tom Jones and Bill Russell formed one of the most fearsome frontcourt duos in NBA history. The team was simply stacked from top to bottom.
Under head coach Red Auerbach, the team cruised to a 62-18 record. They were the number one ranked defense with a variety of offensive talent. They could beat in a multitude of ways from close to the basket, through long-range shooting, or elite shutdown defense. The playoffs provided a difficult task with the Wilt Chamberlain-led Philadelphia 76ers. The difficulty surrounding this series was that the Sixers had a star in Chamberlain that could square up against Russell. The series was tight, going all the way to game seven, but the 76ers, under a 37 point performance by Sam Jones rallied to a one-point victory. The game brought one of the most iconic moments in NBA history when John Havlicek stole an inbound pass intended for Wilt Chamberlain with five seconds left in the game. Combined with the regular-season success, team configuration, and iconic moments, the 1964-1965 Celtics deserved to be on this list.
– 8-0 in Finals
– 1974 Finals MVP
– 11 All-NBA Teams
– 5 All-Def Teams
– Most famous steal in NBA History
– Best 6th man ever
"Havlicek Stole the Ball!"
— Drew Maddux (@DrewMaddux) April 26, 2019
#2 1980-1981 Celtics
Regular Season Record 62-20
Post-Season Record 12-5
NBA Finals: (Won 4-2) vs. Rockets
The 1980-1981 season had to make the list for being the first season where the big three of Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale brought the Celtics a championship. Furthermore, each of these guys was young in their career, Bird had only played one season and Kevin McHale was just a rookie. But their regular season performance and championship run solidified this team as a perennial championship contender for the next 10 years. Essentially, this season ushered in the era of the Larry Bird-led Celtics.
Now, what makes this season unique was that Larry Bird was not the star of the team. Instead, at the beginning of the season, Robert Parish was the Celtic’s top player. Coming into year 5 of his career, Parish was reaching his prime as a basketball player. This showed with his 18.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game while averaging 2.3 blocks per game in 1980-1981. Larry Bird was on the come-up, expected to be a star in a year or two. But by the end of this season, Bird had solidified himself as one of the top players in the league.
Most notable about this season was the inner turmoil that complicated their team chemistry. Rookie Kevin McHale had shined in training camp and the first portion of the season. Many Celtics believed he should be put into the starting instead of coming off the bench as a sixth-man. However, head coach Bill Fitch wasn’t too keen on this move, in part because he didn’t like to start rookies. This rigid mindset would ultimately cause Fitch to resign from the position with the Celtics choosing K.C. Jones as their coach for the future.
Despite the Celtics facing this internal turmoil, the team cruised to a 62-20 regular-season record and a first-round sweep of the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs. However, things got complicated when the Celtics played the Julius Irving-led 76ers. The series went to seven games in part due to Irving and running-mate Andrew Toney’s spectacular performances. However, the Celtics sealed the deal in game 7 with a classic Bird performance where he finished with 23 points,11 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals. The momentum from this series would push them to a victory over a young Houston Rockets squad.
#1 1985-1986 Celtics
Regular Season Record 67-15
Post-Season Record 15-3
NBA Finals: (Won 4-2) vs. Rockets
1985-1986 are widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball teams assembled in NBA history. You had the star power of Larry Bird, who would go on to win a third MVP. Kevin McHale was a star in his own right averaging 21.3 points 8.1 rebounds per game on very efficient shooting. Robert Parish was older, but just as dominate in as he finished the season averaging a double-double. The Celtics scored a home-run with acquisition Bill Walton. Walton had previously been unable to stay healthy but somehow pulled it together to play 80 games. Denis Johnson, a 15 point scorer, and Danny Ainge, a great distributor rounded out this stacked starting rotation.
Furthermore, K.C Jones was truly coming into his form as a coach. After a tough defeat against the Lakers in the 1985 Finals, many had doubted whether the Celtics could go back to their winning ways. In an increasingly competitive NBA, this question only became magnified by fans and analysts alike. However, the Celtics tuned out all of the noise, going 67-15 in the regular season and cruising through the first few rounds of the playoffs. However, their biggest task was against a Rockets team that had dethroned the defending champion Lakers. With Ralph Samson and Hakeem Olajuwon, the Rockets interior was very formidable. However, the Celtics addition of Walton proved key in giving Parish additional interior help while Kevin McHale and Larry Bird shined on offense. This victory was easily the Celtic’s greatest of all-time.