I don't want to supersede IndeedProceed's game preview by any means, but I do want to acknowledge what I feel like is an underlying importance in tonight's game against the Utah Jazz. I don't really believe in "must-win" games, unless a team is facing elimination in a playoff series, or if a team has to win one game in order to qualify for post-season contention (But let's be honest, if you're barely scraping into the playoffs like that, you probably aren't going very far).
So tonight's game against the Jazz isn't a "must-win" by any means, yet it comes on the heels of the Celtics putting together impressive back-to-back wins over a quality Houston Rockets team and an even more dynamic Dallas Mavericks team, which had won 14 of its last 15 games before Boston stormed into town and crashed the party on Saturday. For arguably the first time since early to mid December, we're starting to develop a real sense of hope for this team as the playoffs continue to inch closer and closer. Even if all season you haven't believed that this team "has it", you have to admit that it's been pretty fun these past two games watching Paul Pierce go all retro on us, watching Rajon Rondo completely control a game both when he is and is not putting the ball in the hoop, watching Rasheed actually bend his knees, stick his hand up, and contest a few of Dirk Nowitzki's shots, and watching this team actually play both harder and better when the opposition makes a convincing run, rather than retreating spinelessly without the slightest hint of a fight inside of them.
Doc Rivers has talked for a number of weeks now about this team "turning the corner". While the phrase itself is open to various angles of interpretation, the general consensus seems to point to Doc talking about this team becoming one whose players clearly know their roles and go about executing their roles, so that both offensive and defensive assignments are accomplished accordingly. When he refers to this group "turning the corner", he hopefully means that it's finally running along the path that will lead to championship contention. These last two games, as well as the three home wins prior to last weekend, are all evidence in their own respective ways of this group "turning the corner" and, if indeed they have, then it is necessary for them to stay on that track tonight and not revert back to some of the poor habits that have plagued them in recent weeks. And if the Celtics have not quite "turned the corner", then tonight is simply another opportunity for them to attempt to do so, for three wins over some of the tougher teams in the Western Conference is evidence of of both progression and establishment, especially if we keep in mind some of the more glaring defeats the Celtics have suffered in recent weeks.
And above all, with these encouraging wins still fresh in our minds, wouldn't it, on some level, be bitterly disappointing if tonight the fight, the energy, and the emotion we saw out of this group when they defeated Houston and Dallas, was suddenly absent again? The Celtics were consistent in their smackdowns of the Rockets and Mavericks, and that consistency is what we are growing to expect. For now that we have seen it, we know whole heartedly that it is there, and as a result, we expect it to continue.
So while tonight's game against the Utah Jazz is not a "must-win" situation, a victory over another one of the Western Conference's top teams would certainly be both encouraging and cause for a continued sense of optimism.