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The Celtics could finally be in their comfort zone

Boston loved playing with their backs up against the wall during last year’s playoff run. Now, they have a chance to do the same.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Atlanta Hawks v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Okay, everyone. Take stock. We’re currently at the lowest point of the entire Celtics’ season. Boston is one loss away from being knocked out of the playoffs, when just a week ago their path to The Finals seemed crystal clear. For the first time this year, their backs are truly up against the wall with nowhere to go but forward. Negativity is EVERYWHERE – even calls to break up the team and fire the coach have been rampant over the past 36 hours.

But, let’s hold our horses, because this might be exactly where the Celtics are at their best.

I’m not about to make excuses for how Boston has played this postseason or somehow try to rationalize why they might actually prefer to be in this position as opposed to being in the lead; that would be extreme and ridiculous. I am, however, going to offer a different perspective on their current deficit. A silver lining, if you will.

Last season, the Celtics felt like underdogs. Yes, I know they were the #1 seed, but they weren’t the typical #1 seed. I mean, nobody would’ve batted an eye if they’d lost in the first round to KD, Kyrie, and the Nets. They were also down 1-0 and then 3-2 to Giannis and the Bucks after losing Games 1 and 5 at home. Oh, and most importantly, they had a first-year coach, an injury to their best rim protector, and a core of guys who simply hadn’t been able to get over the Eastern Conference hump despite being close many times.

At the beginning of the playoffs, a Finals run seemed improbable to say the least. Throughout their run, though, the C’s seemed to find comfort in the lack of expectations that surrounded their team. They always responded to losses well, and they played with the sort of chip on their shoulder that you typically tend to see with underdog teams.

This year is different, unfortunately. At the beginning of this year’s playoffs, a Celtics’ return to The Finals (or AT LEAST the Eastern Conference Finals) was almost expected. They made it there last year, and the path seems even easier this time around, right?

But the Celtics’ play seems to be lacking the same ferocity and grit as last year. A possible explanation for this lackluster play – and the one that my hopeful self will choose to adopt – is that the Celtics just haven’t felt the same underdog energy that they did last year, and that’s resulted in a reduced intensity level and fight.

The position Boston is currently in finally comes close to resembling what they might’ve felt last year. And, if last year means anything, the Celtics relish this position; they’re able to play free, while simultaneously bringing an underdog’s attitude. People are already counting them out, and they love that.

This article is not a prediction that the Celtics will win in seven games. I, like all Boston fans, have been incredibly discouraged by the lethargic defensive play against a team less talented than us. But, it’s never too late to turn it around.

The playoffs are all about ups and downs, and sometimes you just have to ride the wave. After Game 1 against the Sixers, it felt like we couldn’t compete. Then, we won two in a row and made them look like our little brother. Oh, and then they won two in a row and made us look even worse. Now, it’s time for the Celtics to reclaim their underdog mentality and take the momentum back.

If anything is going to incentivize the Celtics to play like last year’s team, it’s being in the position they’re currently in now. Backs up against the wall, and time to respond.

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