Coming into Wednesday night’s game, the Celtics were one of the hottest teams in the NBA. They had won 11 in a row at home and were 17-6 in their last 23 games.
Playing against Portland was a huge test for them, as the the Blazers were one of the only teams actually hotter than the C’s during that span. They were 18-5 in their last 23 and had won 9 of their last 10.
The Celtics passed that test with ease as they handed Portland their worst loss since mid-January, running them out of TD Garden by a score of 116-93.
This team has faced its fair share of doubters this season, and when they found themselves at 19-19 after a tough stretch about a month and a half ago it looked like they might prove the doubters right. All of the optimistic fans and analysts who predicted that the C’s would win 50 games and be one of the best teams in the East appeared too be a little overly optimistic, and those who said they lacked the closer and post presence to be a threat seemed to be on point.
Fast forward 24 games and the tables have completely turned. As of right now, the Celtics are projected to win 49 games and find themselves third in the East with 20 games left. Brad Stevens was named Coach of the Month for February, Isaiah Thomas was the first Celtic named to an All-Star team since KG in 2013, and most importantly, C’s fans are looking forward to playoff basketball rather than wondering if their team will even make it that far.
Last year we were happy with making the playoffs and playing hard against the Cavs in those four games. This year, we want wins. We want wins that will carry basketball season deep into May for the first time since that exhilarating 2012 Eastern Conference Finals run. We want wins that will make those doubters eat their words.
Isaiah, the leader of this scrappy bunch, said it best after the win against Portland:
“Teams, players, the NBA — they still don’t respect us. And we know that,” Thomas said after Wednesday’s win. “We go into every game with a chip on our shoulder knowing that we have to earn the respect, and we have to earn what we get, and take what’s ours. We feel like every game we’ve got a chance to win if we play the right brand of basketball.”
The Celtics are still fighting for respect, and they should be. At the end of the day, although they’re in third, they’re still closer to the eighth seed (3.5 games) than they are to the second (4.5 games). This just shows how tight the Eastern Conference is this year, which is yet another reason for the C’s to continue to keep that chip on their shoulder and play at the high level that they’ve displayed recently.
Follow Jack Bardsley on Twitter @BostonsBigFour
Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images via CBS Local