Inside the Boston Celtics locker room moments after their shocking win over previously unbeatable Golden State Friday night, the kind of euphoria ensued that you would expect to see at the Final Four.
“We were having fun,” Celtics guard Avery Bradley admitted afterwards. “Everybody was dancing, smiling.”
But the feel-good vibes soon died down when the reality of who they are – a team still needing to win games in order to clinch a playoff berth – soon set in.
Boston (44-32) is mired in a four-team logjam with one of them emerging as the third seed in the East. With things so tight, the Celtics need to come away victorious against the teams they’re supposed to beat … like the Los Angeles Lakers (16-59).
When the Celtics embarked on their current five-game West coast trip, tonight’s game against the Lakers was at the time – and still is – the one game that offers them the greatest opportunity for a victory. But as we’ve seen with the Celtics this season, there’s no such thing as a sure-fire win having lost to a number of lottery-bound clubs such as Orlando (119-114 on Jan. 31), Milwaukee (112-111 on Feb. 9) and Minnesota (124-122 on Feb. 22).
Even with the experience of losing to sub-.500 teams, there’s still a legitimate concern about the Celtics coming into tonight’s game overconfident or not taking the Lakers as serious as they should.
Prior to Boston leaving Golden State’s Oracle Arena Friday night, Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas didn’t mince words with his teammates when it came to stressing the importance of tonight’s game.
“We got a big win tonight,” Thomas recalled telling them. “But we can’t lose on Sunday. We have to come out, knowing they got us at our place last time and use that as motivation.”
Boston lost 112-104 to the Lakers on Dec. 30, which snapped a four-game Celtics winning streak. More significant, it became the jumping-off point for a series of less-than-stellar performances by Boston, which went on to lose five of its next six games following the Lakers loss.
But that was many months ago. More on the minds of folks now is how the Celtics shined brilliantly in the biggest game of the season at Golden State which won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
But against the Lakers, losers in eight of their last 10 games, there’s not nearly as much buzz other than this being Kobe Bryant’s final game against longtime nemesis, the Boston Celtics.
Whether it’s a nationally televised game or one that’s played in a near-empty arena in Philadelphia, the Celtics aren’t good enough to take any team – even the Lakers – for granted.
“The level of lights is the same every night for me,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “You play 82 (regular season games) and you have to perform 82 times. That’s part of our job.”
Bradley echoed similar sentiments.
“We know it was just one game,” Bradley said. “We have to use this game to motivate us to keep building. These last games we have, every single game is important to us.”