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It’s championship or bust for the 2023-24 Celtics

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There has been a common theme among every Celtics team since Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving were acquired in the summer of 2017: championship expectations.  

Initially, the roadblocks were unavoidable.  Hayward’s leg snapping in half and the Kyrie act turning sour led to relying on two sub 25 year-old’s to lead the team.  Now those guys are both over 25, and as much as it pains me to say this, underachievement has been the main culprit in causing the last two seasons to end short of the ultimate goal.  Missing a chance to go up 3-1 at home against the Warriors in 2022 Finals and going down 3-0 to the Heat in last year’s Conference Finals are two things that never should have happened.

So what did Brad Stevens do?  Leveled up the roster once again.

Derrick White surpassed Marcus Smart last season in terms of the value he brought to the team, so Marcus’ departure wasn’t a huge loss.  Add to that the addition of Jrue Holiday and the backcourt has undoubtedly shown improvement, especially down the stretch of close games.  Kristaps Porzingis has been a clear upgrade over Rob Williams offensively, and his defense has exceeded expectations.

Then you have Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown once again advancing their games a step further, as they have been known to do every year.  When you add one of the strongest second units in the NBA (Horford, Hauser, the emergence of Oshae Brissett), it’s clear that the Celtics have the best roster basketball.  In the past few years they’ve certainly been “in the mix”, but now it’s undeniable.  Not to mention the clear improvements that Joe Mazzulla has made in his second campaign at the helm.  His decision making has been much more structured this time around, and it’s showing itself in the cohesiveness that we’re seeing on the floor.

As it stands now, the Celtics have the best record in the NBA and beat the team with the second best record last Wednesday night when they exacted revenge over Anthony Edwards and the Timberwolves.  Getting run off the floor the next night in Milwaukee is chalked up as the only “acceptable loss” of the season so far as the NBA absolutely butchered their scheduling by having a primetime game on the second night of a back-to-back with travel.  Two days later, the C’s once again showed what they can do when well-rested by destroying Ime Udoka’s Rockets 145-113, then followed that up with a win in Toronto on Monday.  Bouncing back after losses has been another strong point for Joe Mazzulla’s squad, as they’ve only lost two games in a row once all season.

There are absolutely zero “built in excuses” for this squad.  Barring significant injury, there is no explanation to fall back on if they aren’t hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy this June.  It would simply be a result of not reaching their full potential.

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