By Rich Levine
SALT LAKE CITY The Celtics went into the All-Star break having completed the toughest stretch of their season. But just because the schedule has looked easier (and will continue to do so) down the stretch doesnt mean the Cs are in for an easy go of things.
Its a trend thats followed the Big Three over their three-plus seasons together, and one that was once again in effect during Monday nights win in Utah. Essentially, when the Celtics take the floor, you can throw out the records, because regardless of where the other team is, or how much they might be struggling, theyre going to have their best for Boston.
I think every night a team feels that way, said Doc Rivers after the win, so that doesnt change. Thats probably good for us in some way. I dont know what, but it has to be good for us. Every night teams want to beat us. That pushes us.
On Monday, it pushed the Celtics into the most exciting game of the second half, one that saw a Jazz team that was down all sorts of luck they were 5-15 in their last 20, recently lost their coach and even more recently lost their franchise player push Boston to the brink before skill and experience took over in a 107-102 victory.
Im always concerned if were going to meet the other teams intensity, said Rivers, because theyre always giddy about playing us and sometimes you dont feel like we return that. But somehow we find a way to win the games.
Boston will have to continue to find ways over this upcoming stretch.
Of their next 15 games, only six will come against current playoff teams, and of those six games, two are against the 26-32 Pacers (currently the Easts eighth seed). The other four would-be playoff opponents are the Sixers, Knicks, Hornets and Grizzlies, but really, thats not a huge concern. The Celtics have consistently shown they can beat and remain focused enough to beat the best this season. And even though they havent exactly struggled with the bottom of the league, theres always the worry that down the stretch as has already happened this season with losses to Cleveland, Toronto, Washington, Detroit and Charlotte theyll look past and get trapped by an inferior opponent.
But they are aware of the potential traps. They know the dangers presented by teams who appear down on their luck and come out playing like their seasons are on the line. As Paul Pierce said, Weve been in a lot of big games together, so that kind of atmosphere doesnt really faze us.
And the veteran Cs have been around long enough to know that regardless of record, theres no such thing as an automatic win in the league.
Nothings easy, said Kevin Garnett. Nothings easy in this league. Sometimes getting up out of your chair is hard. Nothings easy.