BOSTON — The Celtics will try to redeem themselves in the 2024 NBA playoffs after the Miami Heat ended Boston’s season in the Eastern Conference finals last year.

The official start of the 2023-24 Boston redemption tour began in October after the front office went full throttle and backed its blockbuster addition of Kristaps Porzingis by acquiring Jrue Holiday. From there, the bar was amplified to its highest level under the Jayson Tatum-Jaylen Brown chapter of Celtics basketball, and at every chance to perform up to standard, the team did so while compiling records naturally and routinely.

Now, after racking up a league-best 64 wins, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and a well-earned week off to practice and prepare, the time has officially come. The long-awaited transition from the regular season to the postseason has caught up to the Celtics, and even though the weighing expectations hover above the team, they understand the reality lying ahead.

“There’s no real difference between the playoffs and the regular season outside of the physicality and obviously the chance for your season to be ended,” Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla said pregame Sunday at TD Garden. “I think the hardest thing to do is the simple things under higher duress, under more physicality. That’s the biggest thing. The margins become much more important. The execution, spacing, rebounding, turnovers, all those little things become even more important.”

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Looking back at last season’s failed run, which ended in a catastrophic disaster in the conference finals against Miami, plenty of mistakes derailed Boston.

Here are three:

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Late-game killer instinct, or lack thereof
Toughness can’t be taught. However, it can create self-harm and the Celtics learned that the hard way.

Whether against the Hawks, Sixers or Heat, the urgency needed to play hunter (not hunted) couldn’t be found, turning Boston from the series favorite to a deer caught in headlights when it mattered the most. That can’t happen for the second year in a row, nor is there any leeway for the team to accept it. A part of growth is showing the ability to learn and adapt, which throughout the regular season, the Celtics did.

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Those old, but not too far removed, habits of blowing leads and allowing opponents to strip the Celtics of their momentum weren’t prevalent. Boston set an NBA record by scoring 150-plus points six times, blowing teams out left and right and outscoring teams by 11.34 points a night — the fifth-highest ever recorded in league history.

Boston isn’t the same team as it was last season, but as much as that rang true in the regular season, it must remain the case starting Sunday afternoon.

Weak utilization/creativity with roster rotations — aka coaching
Throwing in a then-first-year head coach in Mazzulla wasn’t a great situation for anyone involved. Therefore, it was no surprise that the ex-assistant showed his inexperience at the helm with a clipboard in hand.

Mazzulla was criticized for a handful of Boston’s flaws such as defensive urgency, ordering the team to be mega 3-point hungry and calling timeouts when the team clearly needed a breather to reset. But lacking that creative edge to insert Derrick White in late-game situations or use others to generate newfound energy and prevent late-game collapses might’ve hampered the Celtics the most. On the flip side, it has also signaled significant growth between Year 1 and Year 2 Mazzulla.

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With Miami in town for the first two games of Round 1, and Boston’s go-to backup center Luke Kornet sidelined, the door is open for Mazzulla to continue leaning on the team’s depth.

“He’s done some non-contact stuff so we’ll kind of see where he is every couple of days, week-to-week,” Mazzulla said of Kornet.

The Celtics have Xavier Tillman Sr. and Neemias Queta, who both played off the bench and made the most of their respective minutes when called upon. Both are candidates to take Kornet’s minutes in the second unit.

Keeping the self-harm to a minimum
Turnovers can put the nail in any team’s coffin, regardless of talent, broken records or expectations.

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Undergoing three losses in their last four trips to the conference finals — all against the Heat — the Celtics understand to what degree turnovers can drag a team to its lowest point. They also executed an effective response toward rectifying that reoccurrence throughout the regular season, which resulted in a record set for the team’s fewest turnovers (11.3) average per night.

Keeping teams from gaining a sense of control produced by midgame miscues allowed Miami to go from a counted-out No. 8 seed to a legitimate NBA Finals contender. It’ll also come in handy during the natural cold scoring stretches at times when the three ball isn’t falling and the Celtics are struggling to pile on the scoreboard.

This could, once again, make or break Boston’s chances.

Featured image via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images