The Celtics headed toward the weekend with the second-best record in the NBA. But even with that exalted status, they’ve managed to make many of their followers a tad uneasy with losses to some teams that will be playing the draft lottery rather than playoff games after this regular season.
And some of the defeats against better-ranked clubs have come after easing up and squandering large leads.
One of the uneasy fans has his retired No. 34 hanging from the TD Garden rafters.
“They know they’re good, but it’s like sometimes they don’t understand,” retired Celtics star Paul Pierce told Heavy Sports. “It’s a long season, man. It’s such a long season. I mean, you know how it is. They’re taking everybody’s best. They know this. They’re the hunted now.
“You heard Ja Morant say it: ‘I ain’t worried about nobody in the West. I’m worried about the Celtics.’ That was just … Me hearing that? I was like, damn. He said, ‘I’m not worried about the West. I’m worrying about the Celtics.’ So you know that respect is there, and people look forward to playing (Boston). That’s the target. Right there, that national interview, a guy in the Western Conference worrying about the Celtics. That was big right there. That shows you where they’re at, as far as respect around the league.”
Celtics Play Down to Opponents
Pierce was in Sacramento for the Celts’ 23-point win Tuesday. But he was also keeping tabs when his favorite team lost to worst-in-the-West Houston and then by a point after blowing a 19-point lead in Utah earlier on the trip.
“I’m like, come on. I just see them sometimes playing down to the level of their opponent and looking to the playoffs, instead of, like, understanding this is a process,” Pierce said. “The difference is they’ve done been to the conference finals and The Finals, and I honestly believe they understand the moment. You know, when they go into L.A. and they play the Lakers and they know everybody’s watching, they’re going to play well. And when L.A. comes to Boston, they’re up for games like that. But some of these games, they’re not really up for them. They seem like they just play to the level of who they’re playing. It’s like it’s hard for them to get up at the end of the year for Utah and Houston, when those teams are looking at the Celtics as their championship game for the year. They’re like, ‘Ooh, we beat the Celtics.'”
When it was mentioned the Celtics also lost two home games to Orlando in mid-December, Pierce said, “That was Eddie House’s fault. He put the battery pack in their back. I told Eddie that, too.”
House, a former Pierce teammate with the Celts now doing studio commentary on the team’s telecasts, had given the Magic no credit after the first of those games, saying, “They got 10 wins. They’re still garbage. They are still not a good basketball team. They won’t make the playoffs. They won’t be in the play-in game.”
After winning in the Garden two days later, Orlando players took to social media to let House know they were aware of his remarks.
Can the Celtics Go to ‘The Next Level’?
Pierce, meanwhile, is more concerned about the Celtics being aware of their situation and having the necessary urgency.
“The difference is, after you win a championship, you know how to take it to the next level,” he said. “You just know. Like in 2010 when we only won, what, 50 games? But once the playoffs started, we were a different team. We know, ‘OK, the playoffs are here now. We can’t be bulls***ing.’ We knew how to get to that level, See, this team ain’t been there yet. They ain’t won a championship. Once you win, you know. Like Golden State, they’re going to be scary in the playoffs if they’re healthy. They know how to play at that level when it matters.
“The Celtics know how they need to play, but they have to get there and then sustain it.”