BOSTON – For most of the season, the Celtics have played with a tunnel-like focus, not allowing anything to take their eyes off the ultimate nightly prize - victory.
Still, with a schedule that eases up considerably from here on out, that focus, that edge that they have managed to seemingly sharpen from one game to the next, is in jeopardy tonight when they play at Brooklyn.
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Boston, the team that has been the NBA’s pacesetter in games played this season, will have two opponents the following nine days – Philadelphia on Jan. 11 in London is one, and boredom is the other.
But the big takeaway for Boston following tonight’s game is the extended period of rest that both players and coaches are eager to embrace.
However, it comes at a time when the Celtics seem to have gone back to being the team whose choked the life out of opponents on a nightly basis.
The 91-84 win over Minnesota on Friday was the second consecutive game the Celtics have held an opponent to less than 90 points.
And remember, the Timberwolves came into the game as a top 10 scoring team, led by a trio of dynamic scorers in All-Star Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
The defense not only shows what the Celtics can do, but also their ability to stick to a defensive game plan that has worked well all season.
“It’s a great feeling for this coaching staff,” said Marcus Smart. “They spend a lot of time on offense, but also on the defensive end trying to make sure we’re in places to succeed. So, if shots aren't falling, the coaching on the defensive end is big.”
On the Celtics defense of late, Kyrie Irving added that it’s about “staying locked in for the full shot clock, just being a more physical team, bringing the fight to teams, making it more difficult and understanding that there are some great players in this league that can make some unbelievable plays but if we stay disciplined we put ourselves in great position.”
We saw against Minnesota just how impactful a little rest and relaxation can be to the Celtics, who have also benefited from having a couple of practice days, which was a rare treat during the first half of the season.
Irving has made no secret the past couple of weeks about how eager he is to get to the London portion of the Celtics’ schedule.
And that makes an already tough-playing Brooklyn team a dangerous foe tonight.
Having edged them 108-105 at the TD Garden on New Year’s Eve only confirmed what we know about the Nets – they play hard, all the time.
And while Boston (32-10) and Brooklyn (15-23) may be miles apart record-wise, the Celtics know closing out the pre-London portion of their schedule won’t be easy.