BOSTON – The Boston Celtics haven’t had as much talent on their roster as they do now, since the 2008 squad which won it all.
But unlike the 2008 squad, this group of Celtics (11-10) hasn’t hit the ground running nearly as effectively as that group.
Former Celtic Paul Pierce, an NBA analyst for ESPN now, was a central figure on that ’08 team. And in his current role, he has seen the Celtics play plenty of times.
When he watches them struggle as they have thus far, one word keeps coming to mind: sacrifice.
“Sacrifice is going to be the word I constantly say about them,” Pierce told NBC Sports Boston shortly before being honored as part of The Sports Museum’s annual gala event, ‘The Tradition,’ at the TD Garden.
For all the talent that his Celtics team had, their collective willingness to sacrifice – there’s that word again – parts of their game for the good of the team is what more than anything else catapulted them to bringing home Banner 17 in their first year together.
Although Boston brought back the core players from last year’s squad which went all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals before being eliminated by the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, this really is more like a first season for them when you consider Gordon Hayward was out for all but the first five minutes of the season-opener last year after suffering a left ankle/leg injury.
Sacrificing was easy for Pierce and company.
Pierce, Allen and Garnett had already established themselves as future Hall of Famers when they joined forces.
So for them, the only thing left to accomplish was to win an NBA title which they each knew had to involve them sacrificing some of their game for the good of the team.
“We had a lot of older veteran guys. Right now, they’re stacked with talent,” ex-Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, the presenter for Pierce at the TD Garden, told NBC Sports Boston. “So it’s about who’s going to be willing to sacrifice.”
Perkins acknowledged it’s harder for a young player to not only accept sacrificing but do it with the kind of consistency needed to win at the highest of levels.
“It’s harder for sure,” Perkins said. “But at the end of the day, everything will simmer down. Everybody will come into their own and sacrifice more once the all-star weekend over with. It’s nothing else to play for after that.
He added, “After the all-star weekend is over with, you’ll see the Celtics get to rolling; they’ll run off 15 or 20 games.”
To Perkins’ point, this team being so much greener is what sets them apart from the ’08 squad.
Convincing players with that kind of room to grow to start sacrificing their games while still working towards establishing their niche in this league, is indeed easier said than done no matter how true their intentions may be of doing just that.
“When you got guys like Jayson Tatum … maybe on another team he’s capable of scoring 25 points a game,” Pierce said. “Same with Jaylen Brown. Same with Kyrie Irving. Same with Gordon Hayward. They have guys capable of being 20-point scorers but on this team that’s not going to happen.
Pierce added, “If you want to win, you have to sacrifice. Some nights it may be your night. Some nights it may not be your night. When me, Ray (Allen) and Kevin (Garnett) came along, I was averaging 25 points a game when they came. I said ‘You know what? I don’t need to do that. I’m going to take less shots and do more in these other areas; defend, rebound, pass, show other areas of my game.’ That’s what made it work. That’s what these guys have to realize.”
But Pierce, aware of how important it is for young players to assert themselves in the NBA and establish themselves as elite players, understands all too well the challenge awaiting Boston’s talented, youthful core.
However, Pierce said that must be put to the side in order to achieve what should be the team’s ultimate goal.
“They want to establish themselves. They want to make a name for themselves,” Pierce said. “You make a name for yourself by winning.”
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