BOSTON (CBS) - The Boston Celtics return home winners of three straight, and with a whole new outlook on the season.
With a five-game home stand on tap, they have a chance to get even better.
Just a week ago, the Celtics had lost four straight in embarrassing fashion. They were blown out by the Clippers, Warriors, Kings and Grizzlies, and had a tough three-game stretch staring them in the face. With their defense non-existent and the team’s mentality in shambles, matchups with the Pacers, Hawks and Knicks looked like they would further push the Celtics out of the playoff picture and into Eastern Conference obscurity.
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A week ago, no one feared the Celtics. Mentally, they were beating themselves. Instead of targeting opponents with a passion, they were the ones reacting and, in turn, bickering amongst themselves on the court.
But a lot has changed in the last seven days. The defense has returned in impressive fashion – thanks in large to Avery Bradley’s long-awaited arrival – and so has the gruff swagger that resembles that of the 2008 Celtics. It’s the attitude that not only had teams worrying about the physical wear a meeting with Boston would entail, but that also got under the skin of the opposition throughout the course of a 48-minute battle on the court.
The Celtics held the Pacers to just 32 percent from the floor on Friday, put up a 33-9 quarter against the Hawks on Saturday, and toned down (and riled up) the Knicks on Monday night. Each night, they played phenomenal team defense and asserted themselves as the aggressor, both physically and verbally (just ask Carmelo Anthony). Paul Pierce was his vintage self at Madison Square Garden, pouting in 23 points while handling the load for the suspended Rajon Rondo, and sealed the win streak with a kiss — literally — to the New York fans.
And now, back at .500 for the season, the Celtics have a great chance to build on their current three-game win streak thanks to a very favorable five-game home stand.
Things get started Wednesday night with a date with the 12-23 Phoenix Suns. Phoenix is surprisingly just as bad as the Celtics when it comes to rebounding at just 40.1 per game (though still better than Boston’s 38.6 average), and this new-look Celtics defense should be able to keep the Suns from doing too much damage. If Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett can build off their performances on Monday night – along with the return of Rajon Rondo – the Celtics should also be able to score against a team that allows over 100 points per game.
It gets tougher Friday when the Houston Rockets, who beat the Celtics 101-89 in Houston last month, bring their top-ranked offense to town. This tilt will be a great test for the resurgent defense, but then they’ll get the weekend off to prepare for two easy ones against the Charlotte Bobcats (who allow a league-worst 103.8 points per game) and the New Orleans Hornets (who only score 91.8 points per game). Then the home stand ends with a tougher matchup against the Chicago Bulls, whose defense is one of the best in the league, but offense is nearly as stagnant as the Hornets.
Given how this season has gone, just because the Celtics have won three straight is no reason to say any of the next five games will be easy. The Celtics still have to match their defensive intensity from the last week, and can’t have any let downs along the way. Too much over-confidence could see the Celtics fall back into their early season ways, and have them back at square-one for the umpteenth time in the last four months.
But this home stand gives them a great opportunity to make up for lost time and climb out of the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.