Getting ‘Punched In the Mouth’ Is Just What the Boston Celtics Need

Kristaps Porzingis

Getty The Boston Celtics bounced back nicely after a slow start against the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Boston Celtics are bored. They own the best record in the NBA at 58-16 and have already clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference. With eight regular season games remaining, how do the Celtics stay motivated? They get punched in the mouth.

They’re not doing it on purpose. It’s only natural to get complacent when things are already well in hand. Losing twice to the Atlanta Hawks and then getting off to a slow start against the New Orleans Pelicans might be just what the Celtics needed. Just ask Boston newcomers Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis.

Jrue Holiday: ‘Sometimes You Need To Get Punched in the Mouth’

The Celtics are in a good spot, but they’re also in a tough one. They know that the Eastern Conference’s road to the NBA Finals runs through Boston. With eight regular season games remaining, the dilemma is how much do the Celtics stars play? Do they risk injury or do they rest their key players?

The Celtics don’t have much to play for right now, so the tendency to let down is there. The two straight losses to the Hawks came two weeks after Boston blew a 22-point lead in the fourth quarter in a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Against the Pelicans on Saturday, March 30, Boston trailed by 11 points in the first quarter. They turned it up in the second half and won 104-92.

“Sometimes you need to get punched in the mouth,” Holiday told Abby Chin of NBC Sports Boston after the win. “Playing these games, sometimes it just happens, right?

“A game like this, with a team like that, early, they can get it going, hard to stop in transition, high-flyers, a lot of 3-point shooting. It could’ve gotten out of control, but I’m glad we got it under control.”

Porzingis Agrees With Holiday’s Assessment

Despite the Celtics’ impressive record, none of it matters unless they bring home what would be an NBA-best 18th championship. The Celtics arguably boast the best starting five in the league, and their bench has come up big this season.

The Celtics have been oh-so-close to Banner 18 in recent years. In 2022, they held a 2-1 series lead in the NBA Finals, only to see the Golden State Warriors win three straight to close out the series. In 2023, the Celtics rallied from a 3-0 deficit and hosted the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat embarrassed the Celtics, winning 103-84, and advanced to the championship round.

The Celtics added Holiday and Porzingis in a pair of offseason deals this year, shoring up an already star-studded lineup led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. For Boston, it’s championship of bust this season, and Porzingis believes it’s games like those against the Hawks and Pelicans that can serve as a wakeup call when complacency sets in.

“We just knew we couldn’t be in cruise control,” Porzingis said after the victory over the Pelicans. “These teams are hungry. They need these wins. Maybe we, at this point in the season, don’t need them as much, but we still want to come out here and compete at a high level ever night. Once we hit another gear, the game just flipped.

“We want to be a hungry team no matter what. We haven’t done anything. Back-to-back losses to Atlanta is not in our DNA. It just didn’t sit right with us.”

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