Even though the Boston Celtics have more than 50 games under their belt, the team’s youngsters still have a lot to learn about playing in the NBA.
The one lesson they are being taught right now is how every opponent on the docket is playing with greater passion, greater intensity and effort.
Because of that, they have to find a way to match or surpass it if they are to emerge victorious.
That’s what makes Monday’s 111-110 win at Denver such a significant win for the Celtics (36-15) who came in having lost five of their last six games.
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Boston had lost two of its previous three games on this trip, meaning a victory at Denver, one of the winningest teams at home this season, was the Celtics’ last shot to head back home with some semblance of positivity about the trip that could be quantified in what matters most – wins.
“We needed this one,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown who drained the game-winning shot with 34 seconds to play. “This was one we needed to get away with. Leave the road trip split, get back to business when we get back to Boston.”
Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, who led all scorers with 27 points, echoed similar sentiments.
“You don’t want to go home 1-3,” Irving said. “That leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But we fought some tough games on this road trip and now we go play in front of our fans for a little bit.”
Of course, the last game on a long road trip is often the toughest to win for the road team. It often takes a heightened level of intestinal fortitude just to compete.
Boston, which led by as many as 20 points, was certainly pushed to its physical limits in part because of the altitude that tends to impact players far more than they let.
“I thought we looked gassed at the end of the game,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We missed some defensive assignments and I thought we missed some good opportunities on offense. But we found a way (to win).”
And while Irving certainly made his share of big plays down the stretch, the contributions of Boston’s younger players were significant.
Rookie Daniel Theis’ energy and effort at both ends of the floor was huge.
Ditto for Jayson Tatum (first 20-point game since Christmas Day), Terry Rozier (he almost had a double-double), Marcus Morris (led the Celtics in first-quarter points, with nine of is 14 points for the game) and Semi Ojeleye (a pair of made 3’s and as usual, really good physical defense) whose contributions were important as well.
“We have tons of opportunity for our young guys to flourish and learn on the fly,” Irving said. “Being on a road trip like this, understand you lose a couple, on a West coast road trip, traveling for 10 days, the best you can do is finish off .500."
More than anything else, it was another night when youth was served in helping Boston emerge with a much-needed victory.
“Tonight, we took a step in the right direction,” Irving told NBC Sports Boston’s Kyle Draper following the win. “We took the best shot from a great Denver team and came out with the win.”