BOSTON – The past couple of months have shown just how magnificent – and maddening – this Boston Celtics can be.
From the elation of handing the Golden State Warriors their only loss at home this season, to painful, punch-to-the-gut losses at Atlanta and against Charlotte earlier this month.
But on Wednesday, for a half at least we saw the promise and immense potential that the Boston Celtics have when they are playing Celtics basketball at both ends of the floor as they rallied from 26-points down to defeat Miami 98-88.
The Celtics victory created a four-way tie for playoff spots No. 3-6. After tie-breaking rules were applied, Boston wound up as the No. 5 seed and will travel to Atlanta later this week to face the fourth-seeded Hawks.
Boston didn’t win as much as they would have liked in the final days of the regular season, but the second half against Miami may have been their best stretch of play over two quarters, all season.
And that play has to become this team’s identity if they are to make a deep playoff run despite beginning their postseason against an Atlanta team that has beaten them three out of four times this season.
But as Celtics head coach Brad Stevens mentioned earlier this week, everything resets now.
For a Celtics team that lost two of its last three games – all at home – that’s a good thing.
There were a number of factors that played into what became the greatest comeback in the NBA this season.
But it seemed everything changed at halftime for Boston when they stopped worrying about the scoreboard and just focused on playing better basketball.
“We just needed to find ourselves,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “That was the biggest thing. In the third quarter I stopped really caring about what the score was; it was just like, ‘Yes, Thank you. Now we have a chance to move forward.’”
And the Celtics will look to do that against the Hawks, a team that in many ways resembles themselves only with more experience and proven, battle-tested talent.
While the formula for success may change from one opponent to another, the ingredients remain the same.
Tough, gritty, unselfish play has to be at the heart of what Boston does in its first-round series against Atlanta.
On Wednesday, the first half was an example of what can happen against a quality team when they veer away from that.
They get smoked, badly.
But when the Celtics are on one string and players are playing to their strengths … you get performances like the one we saw in the second half which has to be this team’s identity going forward.
“If you are a defender on this team you have to go out there and play hard on the defensive end,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “And if you are a rebounder, go and rebound. We all have to play hard in order to be successful.”
And while Boston would have certainly liked to have strung together a couple more wins in the final week of the season, they do go into the playoffs with the kind of performance that they can build off of, the kind that speaks to the identity of a team with legitimate, achievable goals of making a run – a deep run – in the postseason.