By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Good news, Celtics fans. The C’s are going to actually show up and play a good basketball game on Tuesday night.
That’s because they’re playing in Toronto, against one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference and NBA in the Raptors. As much as the season has been littered with disappointing losses to inferior opponents, locker room drama and just as much whining as winning, the Celtics have made it a point to save their best evenings against the best competition (for the most part, that is).
While Saturday night’s blowout loss in Chicago gives the growing cavalcade of doubters some competition for Boston’s worse loss of the year (blowing a 28-point lead to a G-League Clippers team at home still holds the torch), the awful taste should go away sometime around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday evening. The Celtics may not beat the Raptors in their final matchup of the regular season (considered they haven’t won in Toronto in nearly four years), but they aren’t going to get embarrassed.
Kyrie Irving is going to want to go berserk against Kawhi Leonard. Marcus Smart loves to fluster star point guards like Kyle Lowry. Al Horford has been on a tear recently, and now gets to go against Toronto’s big deadline acquisition in Marc Gasol. Perhaps the “Bench With Attitude” will actually have a good attitude. This game has maximum effort written all over it.
As they have in their previous three tilts against the Raptors, and their eight other matchups with the three other teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics are going give a darn on Tuesday. Against the likes of the Bucks, Raptors, Pacers and 76ers, the Celtics are 7-4 this season, right at their season average of 112 points per game. The Bucks are the only team the Celtics have a negative net rating against in that group, sporting a minus-4. They tout a plus-1.7 against the Raptors, 8.5 against the 76ers, and 14.1 against the Pacers.
That’s why even throughout the struggles, the constant finger-pointing and the illness-inducing losses, there is still some hope the Celtics can morph into an Eastern Conference contender when the playoffs arrive in two months. Irving is confident the team will flip the switch and doesn’t think anyone can beat them in a seven-game series. What’s weird is that as much as the Celtics have looked like a disjointed mess for 60 games, they have shown time and time again that they can beat the teams ahead of them in the East standings.
Boston has 22 games to get their act together, but a difficult schedule to do it. They have some tough Western Conference opponents in the Blazers, Rockets and (wait for it) Kings over the next few weeks, with a four-game West Coast swing that includes a visit to Golden State. Another trip to Philly and two games against the Pacers await in the final three weeks of the season. Those could provide Boston with a golden opportunity to make up some ground in the standings. That is unless the Celtics catch them in the meantime, and then they’ll promptly lose those games, because that’s how it’s gone this season.
The Celtics are an inconsistent team that lacks effort from night to night, playing down to the lesser teams in the NBA while playing up to those ahead of them in the standings. It’s one of the most frustrating aspects about the season, and one that could ultimately doom them if they have to play mostly road games in the playoffs.
But on Tuesday, against a team most are saying they won’t have a shot against in the playoffs, the Celtics will at least show up.