The Boston Celtics have taken their fans on a surreal roller coaster ride of emotions this season, one filled with exhilarating highs often followed by head-scratching lows.
But through it all, Kyrie Irving more than any other Celtics player believes when the time comes and the games are upgraded in value significantly - better known as the playoffs - he has shown no doubts that Boston will be ready, willing and capable of getting to the NBA Finals.
"In the playoffs, when we can plan for a team, prepare for a team, I still don’t see anybody beating us in seven games,” Irving recently told reporters.
So, they can just flip a switch like that, huh?
Irving’s confidence in the Celtics being able to get to the Finals stems from Boston’s success against the Eastern Conference's top-shelf squads this season.
Against the top four teams in the East (Milwaukee, Toronto, Indiana and Philadelphia), the Celtics are an impressive 7-4.
They hope to continue along those lines tonight when they travel up North to take on the Toronto Raptors.
This will be the fourth and final matchup between these two during the regular season series which Boston leads 2-1.
If Boston wins tonight, they will take the head-to-head series which could come into play if the two finish with an identical record.
While Irving’s confidence in being able to right the ship in time for the playoffs makes sense for him, it’s not going to be quite as easy for his teammates.
Even with last season’s success in the playoffs, folks forget one of the keys to how Boston performed in the postseason a year ago entered around them finishing out the regular season strong, winning in eight of their last 12 games.
And that success, that confidence spilled over into the postseason with a number of Celtics players getting their first shot at playing a pivotal role in the team’s postseason aspirations which ended with a trip to the Eastern Conference finals losing to Cleveland in seven games.
Irving wasn’t available at that time, missing the team’s entire postseason run as he recovered from a surgical procedure to removed infected screws in his left knee that were put in place following a left kneecap injury in 2015.
All of the Celtics recognize the playoffs are indeed around the corner, but the focus has to be on the moment at hand - facing the Toronto Raptors.
Because if this team will successfully turn it on during the playoffs, they have to start building towards that now.
That doesn’t mean they have to go on some sort of torrid tear per se. But they do have to start playing better to develop the kind of good habits you absolutely have to have in order to have any kind of legitimate shot at postseason success.
Last year’s team dealt with key losses both at the start (Gordon Hayward) and at the end (Irving) of the season.
But in between that period of time, we knew a couple things about that team.
They would play to the final horn, regardless of how deep a ditch they had to climb out of in order to have a shot at winning.
And when games were close, they were clutch - and it wasn’t just Irving delivering the goods, either.
This season the Celtics are 3-5 in games decided by three points or less.
They were 11-8 with the 11 wins tied with Indiana for the most wins in the league by three points or less.
Winning close games. Playing tough defense.
Those were the two defining qualities of last season’s Celtics team, a team that by and large looks almost identical to the team on the floor now in terms of personnel.
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But when it comes to this team’s identity … they have not played anywhere close to the consistency of last season’s squad which is why their identity on so many levels is radically different now.
Instead of playing solid defense night-in and night-out, that solid defense has been sporadic.
And the ability to win close games hasn’t been a strength of this team, with the latest blown opportunity coming at Milwaukee last week when they rallied to lead late in the fourth quarter but failed to come up with a necessary defensive stop in order to fully swing the game’s momentum in their favor.
Which brings us back to flipping the switch when the playoffs arrive.
No one questions whether the Celtics have enough talent to do so.
They have proven themselves repeatedly that when they face the best, that’s when they are at their best.
But the playoffs require that mindset and that ability to be on a certain level of consistency, something this Celtics team has shown very little of with any kind of regularity which is why the idea that this team can just turn it on for the playoffs is hard to see coming to fruition.
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