For the Boston Celtics, it isn’t easy to pinpoint when the crucial turnaround of the 2021-22 campaign began.
It wasn’t a particular moment in time or significant achievement that triggered the Celtics to play better. Instead, it was a sense of urgency that kicked in at some point during the winding days of 2021 — which is where an impressive 123-108 victory against one of the better teams in the NBA; the Phoenix Suns, on New Year’s Eve took place — and into the turn of the calendar year when things began to click.
The latest Celtics news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Celtics newsletter here!
Jayson Tatum on The Celtics’ ‘Low Point of the Season’
One significant moment in 2022 stands out the most for Celtics All-Star Jayson Tatum.
“I just feel like the loss to the Knicks — the buzzer-beater that they hit — was kind of like the low point of the season, and everybody kind of felt it,” Tatum said after practice, Thursday. “But, the best part was that we all just stayed the course, stayed together. We all felt like it was just a matter of time; we’d put a couple of games together playing the right way. And, we started cooking, we started winning, and we just haven’t looked back.”
On January 6, the Knicks overcame a 24-point deficit before R.J. Barrett’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer topped the Celtics 108-105. Two days later, Boston avenged its loss to the Knicks by blowing them out 99-75 at TD Garden before winning 32 of its final 42 games of the regular season.
The Celtics finished with a 51-31 record. The NBA’s 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart also recalls January’s loss to the Knicks as the one-loss that resonated with him and his teammates the most.
“It was just a teaching point for us, another lesson for us to learn,” Smart said. “Another lesson to figure out to be put in that situation again and not have the same consequences. So, yeah, after that game and after the first half of the (regular) season, everybody was like, ‘listen, this is what we got to do.’ No matter what, win or loss, we can’t come back into this locker room and say, ‘the reason we lost is because we didn’t give this amount of effort,’ ‘we didn’t do this, execution-wise,’ and control the things we can control.
“We do that, nine times out of ten, we’re going to win games, and that was the biggest key for us.”
Marcus Smart On What ‘Started Changes’ for The Celtics
At the exact halfway mark of the regular season, Smart and the Celtics decided they’d channel their focus on head coach Ime Udoka’s gameplan at all costs, the team’s approach on a night-to-night basis. And to trust that process.
“No matter the outcome,” Smart added. “Just play the game that we’ve always been playing and that we know how to play, and Ime’s been doing a really good job of holding us all accountable. We’ve all done a great job of holding each other accountable for that, and I think that’s what happened, and that’s what started (those) changes. Everybody just decided no matter what, we’re going to play the way that we play, and we’re not going change for anybody.
“We’re going to make people adapt to us.”