BOSTON — There are no more dress rehearsals. Now, it’s time for the main event.
The NBA preseason is over for the Boston Celtics, having culminated Wednesday night in a 100-86 win over the Brooklyn Nets. The eight-game exhibition slate, however, told head coach Brad Stevens little about the true mettle of this Celtics team.
“I think we all feel more comfortable, but we’ve got a heck of a gauntlet in front of us,” Stevens said before Wednesday’s game. “So, I’ll be able to answer that better at the end of November.”
Calling Boston’s early-season schedule a “gauntlet” is a perfectly fitting description.
The Celtics’ regular season opens next Wednesday with another visit from the Nets, who chose to play exactly zero of their starters in the preseason finale. After that comes a rare November road trip through Texas to take on the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, followed by home meetings with the Toronto Raptors — last season’s Atlantic Division champions — and Indiana Pacers.
A trip to Chicago follows as the second end of a back-to-back, and, after what likely will be a much-needed three-day break, the Celtics then welcome to TD Garden the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers.
The first seven of those teams reached the playoffs last season, with only the Pacers suffering significant losses this summer. The eighth now is led by the best player in the world.
Preparing for a murderers’ row like that never is easy, especially when you consider the Celtics’ opponents thus far. Their first meeting with the Raptors — one the C’s lost by 20 — was the only time Boston has faced a quality foe that was playing at close to full strength.
Still, the Celtics enter the season with a confidence that was not there at this point last year.
“I think we’re very prepared,” Jared Sullinger said after Wednesday’s game. “I think this team understands the type of stretch we’re about to go through, but at the same time, every game is winnable. It just depends on what type of mindset we carry into the game.”
For veteran forward Gerald Wallace, that mindset involves eliminating mental lapses.
“Basketball is basketball,” Wallace said. “We’ve got to worry about ourselves. If we execute and play at the pace we want to play at, we feel pretty good about our chances of winning every game. We just can’t afford the little mental mistakes, because we’re not that big of a team.”
Unlike most of the teams listed above, the Celtics do not have a superstar, an All-Star favorite or even a player that creates significant matchup problems. The lack of a bona fide rim protector, as Wallace noted, is one of this roster’s most glaring holes.
For this team to have any shot at competing this season, functioning as a unit will be critical — something Stevens has drilled into his players’ minds since training camp began. It’s also something, Sullinger says, he and his teammates getting pretty good at.
“We play like a team,” the third-year forward said. “We’re playing great collective basketball. And as long as we continue to do that, I think we’ve got a chance to surprise some people.”
Photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images