BOSTON -- The Celtics have been in the middle of an identity crisis most of this season, vacillating between being dominant some nights and dormant others.
Still, they've seemed to have found their stride lately and in doing so, have strung together four consecutive victories and won nine of their past 10.
We know of another team that had similar early-season hiccups that caught fire at the right time and, lo and behold, were the last team standing when all was said and done.
Yes, we're talking about the Super Bowl XLIII champion Patriots, a team that the Celtics can certainly learn a thing or two from when it comes to winning big.
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One of the first lessons for success involves finding something that works and sticking with it over and over until it doesn't work anymore.
We saw that play out in New England’s 13-3 Super Bowl win over the Los Angeles Rams.
The bulk of the Patriots' lone touchdown drive centered around them calling the same play over and over again, because Bill Belichick and company realized the Rams could not stop it...at all.
Another important lesson involves taking care of the teams you're supposed to beat, more times than not.
That's why despite Cleveland's horrific record (11-42), Tuesday night's game should qualify as yet another measuring stick-type matchup for them.
Yes, the Cavs are one of the worst teams in the NBA and just traded away one of their better scorers (Rodney Hood) to Portland for scraps - better known to most as second-round draft picks.
Cleveland is in full-blown rebuilding mode - some would call it “tanking” - and have no business being able to compete, let alone beat the Celtics on Tuesday night.
So why the hell is this a measuring stick game?
Because this game isn’t about the challenge presented by the Cavs.
It’s about the challenge from within, a challenge that pits Boston’s growth this season against human nature which tells them - and tells all of us, frankly - that this should be one of Boston’s more lopsided road wins this season.
The Patriots opened the season with losses in two of their first three games, bringing out a chorus of boo-birds and doubters about this team's chances to advance to the Super Bowl.
In those times, you constantly heard Tom Brady and Belichick deliver an "on to the next game" message with the focus being more on them improving from within, than whatever is going on outside their locker room or going on with their opponent. They would go on to win 10 of their next 13 regular-season games.
Which brings us back to the Celtics who are, like the Patriots after a slow start, starting to play some of their best basketball right now.
Boston (34-19) has won four in a row and nine of the last 10 with the lone defeat being to two-time defending NBA champion Golden State in a game that wasn’t decided until the final minute.
Knowing what the Celtics know about the Cavs and what they’ve been learning about themselves lately, avoiding a letdown becomes the greatest challenge at this point in the season.
No need to worry about Terry Rozier being motivated for Tuesday night.
“I’m from around that way so I want to destroy them,” said Rozier, who grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. “I think we all feel the same way. We’ve been going up; that’s our mindset. No matter who we’re playing, we just want to keep that pace and play with energy.”
Marcus Smart echoed similar sentiments about facing the Cavs.
“They’re still a team, with young guys and they’ll come out hungry,” Smart said. “Their record is upsetting and frustrating to them. We can’t come in and play them for their record. We have to play them as a team, like we do other guys in this league and come out and own what is ours.”
It sounds good, but we have seen this Celtics team far too often this season come into games like this and deliver some of their least inspiring efforts.
Still, it comes back to growth which, on paper at least, sides with the Celtics.
Remember how they got off to a 10-10 start?
The record was disappointing, for sure.
But the true bummer in their bad start was the fact that they were getting beat by bad teams.
Within their first 20 games this season, the Celtics had 10 games against teams that, at the time of their matchup, had a sub-.500 record.
Boston’s record in those games?
The Celtics were 4-6, the kind of underwhelming start to the season that led many to view Boston as one of the league’s biggest disappointments.
However, Boston has rebounded quite nicely since then with an impressive 18-1 record against sub-.500 teams.
So, they’re on track and all is good, right?
Indeed, the Celtics have found a nice, consistent rhythm at both ends of the floor that has been a recipe for success against most teams, the good and not-so-good ones.
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Of course, their sights are set on taking down the NBA’s Goliaths, such as Golden State.
But taking care of non-contenders like the Cavs is important as well, especially if they want to pick up where the Patriots left off.
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