The Celtics' schedule thus far hasn't exactly been a cakewalk. They've already faced four teams that should make the playoffs this season (Miami, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Oklahoma City), and one that has a fighter's chance of sneaking in (New York). To their credit, the Celtics posted a flawless 5-0 record against these teams. Boston's already endured two back-to-backs, and emerged with a very acceptable 3-1 record (4-1 if you include last night's victory). They've been to overtime twice, and came out winners in both instances. It's almost laughable when the realization sets in that the Celtics' lone loss of the season has come at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Unfortunately, things aren't about to get any easier. Oklahoma City was the first stop on a four-game road swing that still calls for the Celtics to visit Dallas (tonight), Miami (Thursday), and Memphis (Saturday). The early season tests just keep on coming. Already for the third time this season, tonight will be the second night of a back-to-back for Boston. These scenarios don't favor the Celtics even against the bottom feeders of the league, never mind against legitimate playoff teams and borderline championship contenders like the Mavericks.
From Dallas, the Celtics will head south, to South Beach, for a rematch with the Miami Heat. The degree of difficulty goes without saying. Assuming the bandwagoners are out in full force, the crowd could be pretty hostile. And as for the players, now that they've had a few games to "gel" - you know, "work the kinks out" - they're probably thirsty for some revenge.
And win or lose on Thursday, the Celtics can't afford to take the Memphis Grizzlies lightly on Saturday. They're young and athletic - two words you don't want to associate with a Boston opponent. Don't forget there could be some mental lapses, seeing as it'll be the final game of a difficult four-game stretch with a week back in Boston promised afterward. How ironic would it be if Tony Allen came up with a game-winning steal or something of the nature?
Fortunately, despite the difficulty of the schedule, there are some positives to make note of. The Celtics have been one of the league's best road teams ever since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen came to Boston. The last three seasons the Celtics have been a combined 84-39 away from Boston, good for a 68.2 percent winning percentage. So far this season, they're 2-1 (ugh, that Cleveland loss grows uglier by the day. Let's stop talking about it.).
We can't extend the Celtics' momentum past tonight's game, but they certainly have some entering Dallas. They maintained a double-digit lead for the majority of last night's win over the Oklahoma City Thunder (minus Jeff Green), and collectively, the bench played its best game of the season (I know Kevin Durant finished with 34 points, but Marquis Daniels played terrific defense on him). As a result, the starters' minutes weren't out of control (36 or less for Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jermaine O'Neal), with the possible exception being Ray Allen, who logged 39. While Ray always seems to draw the short straw in these matters, he does serve as the best fit with the second unit.
Like I said, momentum can't be extended past the next game. But the Celtics have already managed to grind out close games against worthy opponents multiple times this season. It doesn't always have to be pretty. It just has to work. The whole "one game at a time" thing is actually pretty important in instances like these. Hopefully the Celtics can outlast Dallas tonight (it wouldn't shock me if it got ugly), soak up a needed two days off to deal with Miami on Thursday, and close this thing out the right way on Saturday (preferably without the Tony Allen-related game-ending play. Unless it involves him, you know, turning the ball over or something).
Oh, and if the prospect of going 3-0 for the remainder of this trip isn't exciting enough (I'm not saying it'll happen. I'm just saying it'd be awesome if it happened), we get Delonte West back once it's over.