Blakely: Losses have turned Celtics into winners

Blakely: Losses have turned Celtics into winners
February 11, 2013, 5:43 am
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BOSTON Players often view games as individual vignettes that over the course of a season, give you a greater sense of a team's body of work.

But there are some individual games that speak volumes as to a team's identity.

Boston had one of those games on Sunday as they managed to survive a triple overtime battle with Denver and emerge with a 118-114 win.

Survival has indeed been part of the Celtics story this season.

Losing the league's assists leader in Rajon Rondo with a partially torn right ACL is a major blow. Compounding the loss less than a week later was promising rookie Jared Sullinger being lost for the season following back surgery.

Instead of being hurt by those setbacks, it seems they have only helped this group to re-invent themselves into a formidable club that doesn't subscribe to the theory that teams that lose key players are supposed to lose.

The Celtics have shown the kind of fight and resiliency that was nowhere to be found at the start of the season. As strange as it may sound, the loss of Rondo and Sullinger might have been just what this team needed in order to see those traits within themselves.

Far too many games to count this season, they played as if the regular season was just a lay-over until the arrived at the "real games" - the playoffs. But because of how this team sputtered out the gates this season, that's no longer a luxury.

The regular season for a change had meaning for the Celtics; significant meaning if they were to have any shot at achieving the lofty dreams they aim for every season.

But what appeared to be a dead end to those dreams coming to fruition with Rondo's injury, have only become a detour into a brand of Celtics basketball that in many ways is better.

That's not to say that the C's are a better team without Rondo, of course.

But what the Celtics lost in Rondo's talent, they have more than made up for their fight to prove they can win in his absence.

They seem to work harder on defense, crash the boards more frequently, follow the game plan closer and by doing all those things, position themselves most nights to have a chance at winning.

But to achieve all those things, it has to be done by the collective group. And that is what makes this team, this re-invented Celtics team, so special.

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are still Boston's 1A and 1B options. But the gap in terms of contributions between them and the rest of the team, isn't nearly as wide as many suspected.

Jeff Green has become a consistent X-factor off the bench who is a double-digit scoring machine. Jason Terry has rediscovered his shooting touch and clutch-gene. Chris Wilcox appears to have worked himself back into Doc Rivers' good graces as a viable option as Kevin Garnett's backup. And Leandro Barbosa is still effective, even with more minutes.

It collectively adds up to a team that isn't going to go away anytime soon, even if they are not complete.

But within that incomplete state lies a team that is complete with fire, hunger to win and an edge about them that makes them kind of scary come playoff time.

Avery Bradley is one of the more soft-spoken Celtics you'll find. But there's no mistaking the confidence - the swagger if you will - that he exudes that in many ways, symbolizes this entire team.

Once Sunday's game went into overtime, the Celtics' confidence was still high.

"There was never a doubt in our mind in any overtime that we weren't going to win this game," Bradley says.

Whether you believe him or not is not the point.

The fact is, as you walk around the Celtics locker room talking to player after player, the confidence level of this team is on a similar or higher plane than Bradley's.

It's clear that this winning streak while impressive, won't be enough to satisfy this group. They see this latest run as just part of the puzzle.

But truth be told, it's more than that.

When you look at how they are winning, it says more about who they are than where they are in terms of the standings.

This a team whose foundation is built on great defense, timely shot-making and the contributions of many.

And then there's the edge that they are steadily playing with these days, an edge that wasn't around most of this season.

That gritty defense and overall edge about their play has become their identity; an identity that this current seven-game winning streak has firmly established and brought to light.

And that light isn't ready to flame out anytime soon.