Getting fired up for Saturday’s game at Houston was easy for the Boston Celtics.
They both rank among the top teams in the NBA this season and waged one of the most memorable games of the year.
When they met earlier this season, Boston had an epic comeback from 26 points down in the second half to beat the Rockets 99-98. And in the rematch on Saturday, Boston had Houston on the brink of defeat once again before the Rockets (49-13) -- owners of the best record in the NBA -- rallied in the final minutes of play for a 123-120 win.
Up next for Boston (44-20) is Chicago (21-41), a team that is a far, far cry from the Celtics’ last opponent and for that matter, most of Boston’s opponents this season.
“We need to have a great sense of urgency,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “The last time we went into Chicago, they blew us out. We have to make sure we’re really engaged.”
Horford is referring to Boston’s 108-85 loss at Chicago on Dec. 11 which is still the Celtics’ most lopsided defeat this season.
But both Chicago and Boston will field very different-looking teams tonight than what was on display back in December.
The Bulls no longer have Nikola Mirotic who has since been traded to New Orleans. And Zach LaVine, who was out while recovering from an ACL injury, is back in the fold.
And Boston didn’t have Kyrie Irving (quad bruise) or Marcus Morris (left knee rehab), their top scorer overall and top scorer off the bench, respectively.
Regardless, the Celtics have to approach this game with a similar mindset that we’ve seen since their return from the all-star break.
“We can’t disrespect no teams,” Morris said. “Everybody’s an NBA player, so we have to approach the game the same way. Obviously, they’re not as good as the Rockets but we’re fighting for something bigger than that.”
Boston has its sights on finishing with the top overall record in the East for the second straight season.
But it won’t be easy, not with the Toronto Raptors continuing to play good basketball.
Toronto (45-17) has won four straight and 11 of its last 12 and currently lead Boston by two games in the East.
With the regular season winding down and the Celtics continue to fight for the best possible playoff seeding, every game regardless of the opponent, is of great value.
And the Celtics need to continue playing that way.
“We don’t have any time to waste, so to … go into Chicago, feel them out, we don’t have time for that,” said Kyrie Irving. “We put our identity on the game and go from there. We execute at a high level and live with the results after that. It’s no time for this, trying to learn and try to figure out. Who cares what their record is? They’re playing hard. It’s our job to go out there and play hard as well.”