How do you explain the 4-0 week the Celtics have had, bookended by statement wins over title-contending teams? Are they winning because they're a better team without Rajon Rondo, or are they playing harder to compensate for their departed All-Star?
Ask the Celtics themselves, and their answer is... well, in a word, it's "meh." The C's care not for your reductive storylines.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't even know what we'd won in a row," Kevin Garnett said, quickly rejecting the "winning streak" hype. "I just knew we'd been moving the basketball, playing hard as crap, and playing together since we'd lost those two lead guys. But thank you for that information."
These Celtics have always been a confident bunch. For as long as they've had Garnett and Paul Pierce leading the way, they've never bothered with scoreboard-watching or excuse-making. They just keep trucking along. If winning streaks happen, they happen, but they've never been a focus.
More importantly, these C's are concerned with the long-term process of learning to play without Rondo and Jared Sullinger -- a process with which, as shown by today's 106-104 victory over the West titan L.A. Clippers, they are becoming increasingly comfortable.
"It's been a transition," Garnett said. "But we're seeing how it's starting to settle in. Guys are knowing they're going to play, and they're being prepared for that. It's a transition. I don't know where we are in that, but we're going to take it one game at a time and continue to consolidate that responsibility through everybody.
Just as it was in the Celtics' double-OT win over Miami a week ago, it was a complete team effort that helped the C's topple the Clips today. Paul Pierce was again the star, pouring in 22 points including a game-winning dagger on his team's final possession, but he got by with a little help from his friends in this one. Surprisingly, the C's were led by in rebounds (8) by Brandon Bass, and in assists (6) by Jason Terry. There's a sentence you never would have read a week ago.
No doubt, the Celtics are finding different ways to win. That's not a coachspeak cliche -- it's reality, and it's been an ongoing process for the team this past week.
"We have to make pace," coach Doc Rivers said. "We have to go zone and man and try to keep teams off balance. We're switching now. We're doing a lot of different stuff on defense just to create confusion, and hopefully they can't find a matchup. That's what we're trying to do."
This win over the Clips wasn't perfect -- not by a long shot. Boston let a 19-point halftime lead wither down to three in the second half, in fact, and they appeared to be in serious danger of choking this one away late. It was Atlanta all over again, it seemed.
The reasons for the letup were typical Celtic reasons -- fatigue, laziness, weak shot selection, and a general mental haze that allowed the Clippers to creep back into the game. Which is alarming, because there's very little room for error given the team's current personnel.
"We can't be that way anymore," Rivers said. "We just can't. We can't play that way. We won the game, we beat a heck of a team, and I'm very happy with that. But in my mind, we can be better, much better than we were today."
The Celtics won't be letting up now. They've won four straight games, but they're still a lowly eighth in the Eastern Conference, and there's still work to be done. The C's have the Raptors and then the Lakers coming up in the days ahead, and they need to continue executing.
"We've just got to keep doing it," said Avery Bradley. "Don't take steps back. Don't let this four-game winning streak make us get lazy. We have to continue to get better, and that's what we'll do. Doc won't let us slack at all."
"We've still got our goals in the same place," Pierce said. "Ours don't change. Maybe you guys' change, but ours don't."