But give him a pass on this. Great players aren’t necessarily great leaders (and it’s probably time we stop insisting they be). Plus, the Celtics’ lackluster play then would’ve tested anyone’s patience.
“I’ve been through too many battles to hang onto the same emotions game after game,” Irving said.
Truth be told, the Celtics have just as much of a chance to win the East title as the Bucks, Raptors or Philadelphia 76ers. They’ve got a superstar in Irving and solid supporting pieces. Both Stevens and his roster are playoff tested, as few key players on the Bucks, Raptors or Sixers have gone deeper in the playoffs than the Celtics’ have.
Plus, the Celtics believe better days are coming, and that’s half the battle, regaining that confidence.
“For the most part we played great basketball on this trip,” said Jaylen Brown. “We’ve been away from home a long time. We wanted to get all four games on this trip, but it’ll be good to go home and take the next step. We’ve just got to pick it up. And you do that by winning. Winning stands out.”
Brown says the right formula is staying true to your identity, something that escaped the Celtics for a while.
“When we play with tempo and pace, it’s tough for anyone to beat us,” he said. “When we slow it down …”
Sometimes when players on a team is on the road, they can’t escape each other. They’re at the same hotel, sometimes eat at the same spot, and that can have a unifying effect. Perhaps that has been the case in California for the Celtics.
“The way we played and stayed together, it showed,” said Al Horford. “We played with a purpose and want to continue that way. It’s about consistency, and we did a lot of that on this trip.”
Half of Boston’s remaining 14 games are against teams currently .500 or better. In April, four of their five games are against teams with losing records. At 1 1/2 games out of third place — the Celtics’ ceiling — that goal could still be reached to close out 2018-19. That’s why anyone who made a final statement on the Celtics prior this trip was being too hasty.
The NBA season is long, and rough patches are expected. The Celtics, perhaps, have hit their final one. It’s probably wise, though, that they don’t believe that and fall into a trap.
“It’s not like we solved a puzzle after three (wins),” said Stevens. “We have to get better.”
Yes, they do. But same goes for any team that calls itself a contender. The pack is just too tight and the competition too stiff in the East. The Celtics had to get as far away from home as possible for an entire week to find out who they are. But road trips, as fine as they turn out to be, do have their limits.
“We need to get out of here,” Irving said. “We’ve been here long enough. No disrespect to any California native, but we need to get out.”
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