clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The fight in the dog: the Celtics have shown up in big games

New, comments

Mark Twain must have been a Celtics fan.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

For much of the season, the Celtics have played like they’ve already won a championship. They recycled their unexpected success from last year’s playoffs--I am officially retiring the phrase “...Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals” from my vocabulary--turned it into hype heading into this season with a healthy Kyrie Irving and improving Gordon Hayward.

The season has been poisoned by locker room drama and trade speculation and marred by mind-boggling losses to lottery teams. But despite all the downs of this roller coaster ride, the Celtics have shown enough in their up swings that hanging Banner 18 in the rafters this summer is still a strong possibility.

Consider this: seven teams currently have better records than the 37-23 Celtics, four in the East and three out west. Here’s how Boston has stacked up against them this season:

Boston Celtics vs. contenders

Team Overall record Head-to-head record Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating
Team Overall record Head-to-head record Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating
Milwaukee Bucks 36-14 1-2 105.6 109.6 -4
Toronto Raptors 44-17 2-1 110.7 109.1 1.7
Golden State Warriors 43-17 0-1 108.8 110.6 -1.8
Denver Nuggets 41-18 0-1 110.3 118.6 -8.2
Indiana Pacers 40-21 1-1 118.6 104.5 14.1
Oklahoma City Thunder 38-21 2-0 112.4 108.2 4.2
Philadelphia 76ers 39-2 3-0 107 98.4 8.5
Total/Averages 9-6 110.1 107.1 3

A handful of caveats: the early season loss in Denver was pre-Smart and Morris in the starting lineup, the late December drubbing by the Bucks was minus Horford and Mook, and the most recent one-point loss in Milwaukee was without Hayward and Baynes. But even with all the qualifiers, Boston’s record and play against NBA contenders in both conferences has been strong. Despite all the ups and downs of the 82-game grind, whenever a quality opponent has come up in the schedule, the Celtics have been more than competitive.

That’s what makes the losses to bad teams so puzzling. After the disappointing loss in Chicago over the weekend, Marcus Smart remarked on another low effort, low energy performance by the team and compared this year’s team to years’ past, “our toughness. Our will to fight. Our will to do everything. It’s just like, we don’t got the will to do it anymore. I don’t know how you teach effort, will, want-to. I don’t think you can.” That’s Smart being Smart and grumblings that you don’t want to hear this late into the season, but it’s not too hard to be confident in this team’s ceiling because we’ve consistently seen it when it’s mattered most.

In a recent article, Jeff asked “are the Celtics a ‘flip the switch’ team?”

It is still unfathomable to me that last year’s Eastern Conference try-hard team added Kyrie Irving(as well as a limited Gordon Hayward) and now all of a sudden they only show up when they feel like it. I know that Irving was on some flip-switchy teams in the past, but I don’t think we can blame it all on him either.

It goes up and down the roster. From Hero-Ball Rozier to Golden Boy Tatum to President Jaylen Brown to the entire bench (remember the Bench With Attitude?). About the only ones immune to the disease are (ironically) the veterans on the team.

You don’t see many complaints about the effort from Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, or Aron Baynes. Al Horford and Gordon Hayward have been limited at times by injury, but not necessarily by effort.

Brad Stevens can’t give the effort for them, but he can reward effort and hold those not giving it accountable. It is fair to question at this point if the team has failed to buy into his continuous improvement philosophy.

The short answer is yes. They’ll flip a switch or turn up the dial or do whatever it takes. There are twenty-two games left in the regular season, including tonight’s final match up against the Raptors. In three games against Toronto, Kyrie Irving is averaging over 30 points on 60% shooting, including that clutch performance a month ago when he had 10 points and 6 assists in the fourth quarter. When asked if he was worried about the team, Irving made a complete 180 on his previous comments and said: