“I’m ready to go home,” Brown deadpanned.
I’ve never played in a six-game NBA road trip myself, but I’d imagine it’s a lot like a family vacation. Everyone’s giddy to start, eager to explore the country and get away for a bit.
In the beginning, you’re getting your feet wet and a feel for your surroundings. In the middle, you’re having the time of your life and want to keep the positive vibes rolling and the daiquiris coming.
As the end approaches, the exhaustion start to kick in, and you miss your bed. Family members are getting antsy, and there’s a little adversity, but you collectively put your egos aside and find a way to make it to the finish line.
The Celtics followed a similar trajectory, grinding out wins over the Nets and Raptors, obliterating the Suns, losing their footing against the Warriors and Clippers and somehow, managing to salvage everything against the Lakers.
The vacation is up and down at times, but in the end, you find a way to post a 4-2 record as a family. Not everything was rosy, but ultimately, the reward is sweet and it’s something you’ll cherish for a while. You realize that it really was a 4-2 trip, not a 3-3 one, even though it felt like a 2-4 one at times.
So what did we learn about the Celtics from this road trip? Well, for starters, we learned that they can pull out close games against potential playoff teams.
The Nets put forth a better showing than they often do against the Celtics, but Boston grinded out an 11-point win. The Raptors also gave them a battle, but the Celtics persevered. These games showed they can beat teams in a variety of ways, too. Not every win is going to be pretty or smooth, and that’s OK. This will make them better in the long run.
Against the Suns, we learned that the Celtics are the clear favorites if these teams meet in the Finals. At the time, Phoenix was the best of the West (but including the loss to Boston, the Suns have lost five straight). The “it was just one game” argument has some merit, but it’s pretty obvious the Celtics match up well against the Suns. Phoenix simply doesn’t have the wing defenders to slow down Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. There’s so much pressure on Devin Booker to produce, and he can’t do it all.
The game reinforced the notion that the Celtics are who we thought they were. This team can hoop. Like, really hoop.
Then came the head-scratchers. For whatever reason, Steph Curry and the Warriors currently have the Celtics’ number. That doesn’t mean it will stay that way, but it’s unquestionably the case at the moment.
Malcolm Brogdon spoke on the loss to Golden State being good for the Celtics moving forward pic.twitter.com/epCGCU0Ae3— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) December 11, 2022
Golden State, unlike Phoenix, has elite defenders who can keep Brown and Tatum reasonably in check and force them into poor decisions. The Celtics acknowledged afterward that they probably placed a little too much emphasis on the Finals rematch. Using it as fuel is healthy to a certain point, but when that mindset takes over, it can backfire.
There’s a solid chance these teams will meet again. If they do, the Celtics need to get out of their own heads and play their brand of basketball. Dictating the style of play is crucial in every game, but it’s especially necessary against Golden State. The Warriors are killers and won’t give them anything, but the Celtics are still the more talented team and fully capable of beating them in the Finals.
The Clippers game taught us that the Celtics aren’t going 76-6. Well, that was never going to happen, but this was a not-so-friendly reminder that there are other good teams out there. The Clippers, when healthy, can beat anyone, and shouldn't be taken lightly either.
Every team has a clunker on occasion, so there’s no reason to put too much stock into that blowout loss. Calling it a “blessing in disguise” may be generous, but it should help the Celtics long term. No team is invincible, including the hometown squad.
"He set the tone for us and told us we need to get our s*** together"— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) December 14, 2022
Jaylen Brown on Joe Mazzulla's pregame message pic.twitter.com/2keRlFhCKM
Then came the wild one. The Celtics initially had no reason to lose that game, then they had no right to win it. It yielded a rollercoaster of emotions that hadn’t surfaced quite to that level so far this season.
This win showed that the kids are all right. They may do some things that drive you crazy. Marcus Smart may take too many 3’s. Jaylen Brown may lose the ball in the lane. Derrick White’s involvement may come and go.
But in the end, though, they’re your kids, and you love them. Through the ups and the downs, this is your team. Enjoy it, Celtics fans. Not every family is as resilient or powerful as this one.
This trip showed that regardless of what happens, they’ll always find their way home.