BOSTON – No matter who the opponent is, if you talk to them before facing the Celtics they will tell you it’s a big game.
The Celtics are seen by many as one of the best teams in the NBA and the approach taken by opponents lends some credibility to that theory.
Still, as we’ve seen in past years when it comes to knocking off one of the favorites, a letdown often occurs afterward for the winner.
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And that too has been a common thread binding most of the teams that have beaten the Celtics this season, including tonight’s opponent, the Utah Jazz.
Since the Jazz knocked off the Celtics 123-115 in Gordon Hayward’s homecoming on Nov. 9, Utah has lost two of its past three games.
In fact, the six teams that have beaten Boston (9-6) this season are a combined 2-4 in the games following what many characterized at the time as a marquee victory.
This is a Boston team comprised of players from last season’s squad that advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
They have talked about the adjustment that they are still making to teams playing them with a level of focus and intensity that’s noticeably different from a year ago, the kind of difference you come to expect when no longer are you among the hunters but instead the team everyone is seemingly gunning for.
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“As a team, it’s our second year together,” said Al Horford. “For most of us guys, we’ve never been in this position. So, we went from... going after people, [to] people are coming after us. Just making that adjustment. We’re learning that right now.”
And the lessons are clearly sinking in, evident by the gutsy performance Boston had in defeating the Toronto Raptors 123-116 in overtime on Friday night.
Kyrie Irving led the way with a double-double of 43 points and 11 assists, becoming just the third player in franchise history to tally at least 43 points and 11 assists in a game. Boston also got strong performances from Jayson Tatum with 21 points, and Gordon Hayward, who had 15 points on 4-for-8 shooting, to go with five rebounds, five assists and four steals while playing a season-high 39 minutes.
Marcus Smart has heard the talk about adjusting to being one of the favorites for the better part of this season.
He's not trying to hear it as a reason for why they've let some games get away from them that were winnable.
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“It’s a little different, but that’s no excuse,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “We still have to play our game, play the way we know how to play. If we do that, it doesn’t matter what other teams do or how they approach us. We still give ourselves a great chance to win; that’s what you want.”
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