For all the winning streaks the Celtics have strung together this season — a nine-game run starting in late November, a six-gamer to start the season, a couple of four-game streaks — the big knock against the Celtics all year long has been their relative lack of true "statement" wins. The playoffs have a way of exposing teams that haven't been really battle-tested, and the Celtics were running out of time to prove their big-game mettle to the rest of the NBA.
After this weekend, they can probably relax a little bit.
This weekend's Lone Star State road trip — the "Texas two-step," as it's trendily called — was more than a statement. It was the whole term paper. The Celtics have not only improved to 9-3 in March, proving what they can do with a healthy roster and a deep rotation, but they've earned a pair of big wins against quality Western Conference teams.
Everyone's hungry this time of year. Every playoff-hopeful team the Celtics see will have something to play for — whether it's home court, a higher seed or simply qualifying for the NBA's big dance in April.
The C's ran into a Houston team Friday night that was on the outside of the Western playoffs looking in, four games back of Portland for the No. 8 spot. Then they went to Dallas, where the Mavericks were duking it out with Denver for the No. 2 seed in the conference behind the mighty Lakers.
Forget about these Celtics being bored. It couldn't be further from the truth. They're laser-focused and ready to let the rest of the NBA know it.
"We're trying to gather momentum for the playoffs," said Paul Pierce, who had 29 points and five assists in Boston's win over Dallas. "I'm healthy, Kevin [Garnett] is healthy, and we're ready to roll."
For the Celtics, it all has to start with the captain. And while Pierce has had his share of setbacks this season, injuring everything from his foot to his thumb to his knee to his back, he's finding his stride now. Everyone who thought Pierce was too old, too slow, too apathetic to carry this team? The Truth has told all the doubters where they can shove their criticism.
Twenty-nine points against the Knicks on Wednesday, on 11-of-17 shooting. Twenty-six against the Rockets, on 9-of-14. Twenty-nine against the Mavericks, 10-of-17. This is the kind of production you expect from your captain, your leader, your eight-time All-Star.
“He's starting to get his confidence," Doc Rivers said. "Right now he's still searching a little bit. You can see it during the middle of games more. I got on him in a timeout because I thought he was looking to pass too much, which I don't think I've ever had to say to Paul, and told him to just be aggressive. 'Just be who you are,' and he was that."
Just be who you are.
It's good advice for the entire team, really. The Celtics are happy, they're healthy, and they're playing solid team basketball. All they need to do is keep it up. They know how to win a championship, as they proved two years ago, but they can't do it overnight. So from here, the goal is simple: Just keep winning. Just keep getting better, and keep preparing for the road ahead.
"I told our guys it's a great win, a terrific win, but we're still not where we want to be," Rivers said. "We have to keep marching toward that. Whether we win games or not, our goal hasn't changed. We want to be ready in April. These games are important to getting there."
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