When it earns a convincing win on the road against one of the NBA's rising powers, and it still isn't satisfied.
The Celtics led by as much as 22 in the third quarter against the young, explosive Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night. They withstood another epic scoring performance from Kevin Durant — 11-of-22 from the field, 10-of-11 from the free-throw line, 34 points total. They held off a valiant comeback attempt in the fourth quarter, pulling away when OKC narrowed the gap to six in the final minutes.
The C's beat the Thunder, 92-83, to earn their fifth consecutive win and improve to 6-1 overall this season. But their tone after this contest wasn't one of triumph or even relief — it was perfectionism. They played well for stretches, but they were still concerned about putting the effort together over a full four quarters.
"We came out in the first half and played as well as a team can play," coach Doc Rivers explained. "We were defending, we kept them off the glass, we played with great energy, we were running the ball up the floor and we were getting into our offense early — and then we did the exact reverse in the third quarter. We relaxed, and we just kind of let them play. They're too good to let your guard down. We did that, and a veteran team should never do that. We got away with it."
The Celtics coasted through the first half. They were hitting every shot in sight. They were getting big minutes from their bench. They were capitalizing on the Thunder's mistakes and converting transition points. They were shutting down everyone not named Durant. And they capped it all off with an absurd, off-balance 3 at the buzzer from Nate Robinson, sending them to the locker room up 58-37.
A lot of teams would cruise to victory with that kind of halftime lead, but not the Celtics. The C's ran out of steam in the third quarter, going on long stretches without executing offensively, and letting both Durant and Russell Westbrook take over the game. Those two Thunder youngsters combined for all their team's scoring in the quarter, outscoring Boston 27-15 and making it look easy.
This wasn't the first big lead the Celtics have coughed up this season. Far from it. In just their first two weeks, the C's have managed to lead the Heat by as many as 19, the Knicks by 12 and the Bulls by 16 points. None of those games were as easy as they looked initially.
But in the end, they all turned out as W's.
"We're winning the games, that's the one thing I will say," Rivers said. "In this league, everyone loses leads, but not the way we did today. The other games, it was more our execution, but I thought we had good focus. Today, it was just us. We got up on a great team, but you have to keep playing that way to stay up. We kind of let up. You can get away with that against a lot of teams, but not a team with Westbrook and Durant on it. You definitely can't do that."
The Celtics earned a nine-point win on the road against a great team, but they found plenty of nits to pick. In the long run, that's a good thing.
These C's are still working on putting it all together. Imagine how good they'll look once they do.