The Boston Celtics are playing well, their defense is clicking, the bench is balling out while head coach Brad Stevens is check-mating every move made by his coaching brethren at the opposite end of the court.
But there is legit concern that the inevitable lull, one that we have grown accustomed to seeing with the Celtics, will appear at some point.
However, in putting away an injury-riddled Philadelphia team with a four-game sweep capped off by a 110-106 Game 4 win, the Celtics are serving notice that this team has deep postseason potential, and is ready to put aside the ghosts of their foot-off-the-gas predecessors.
And while on paper it appears as though the Celtics had no problem with the Sixers, there were ample times in the last two games when the grit of this Boston squad was challenged.
That grit manifested itself in the form of having a heightened sense of urgency that even with the series against Philly firmly in their control, would prove to be a guiding force as well as a point of focus for the Celtics who consistently made the big plays at both ends of the floor and in doing so, over and over again killed any hopes of Philly ever gaining any traction in this series.
“You only get one chance at this; you don’t want to ruin it,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “For us, it’s focusing on the game ahead. You don’t want to look (too far) ahead.”
But there’s more – much, much more – to why the optimism surrounding this team is a lot higher than it was last season even though on paper at least, Boston’s 2019 playoff squad had the look of being a more formidable squad.
Smart says the postseason problems from a year ago ultimately came down to one thing.
“Last year, we didn’t have that trust that we do now,” Smart said. “We had to find a way to get that trust back and we’ve been doing that.”
There’s no question there's some “addition by subtraction” going on with Boston as the Celtics lost two key performers in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford who took their talents to Brooklyn and Philadelphia, respectively.
Out went two All-Stars, in came one in the form of Kemba Walker who scored 32 points in Boston’s series-clinching win on Sunday to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in his career.
“We won a series, but still looking forward to some more tough ones,” said Walker who added, “it’s a high-level organization (in Boston). They expect to win. That’s what I’m here for; to play high-level basketball each and every night. That’s what we’ve been doing.”
And while it’s debatable as to whether this team is better than the Celtics squad from last season, there is little doubt that the team we see on the floor now has a greater level of connectivity and chemistry.
“Last year we had a lot of talent. This year, we’re better as a team,” said Jaylen Brown. “So going into the next series, we have to be ready to fight.”
Brown immediately recalls how Boston swept the Indiana Pacers in the first round last year, only to find themselves on the short end of a “Gentleman’s sweep” in the second round as they were knocked out by Milwaukee in five games.
“We have a better team (now) and I think we’ll prove it in the second round,” Brown said.