They understand that they are not the prohibitive favorites in this series despite being the second seed.
The Celtics need to prove to the NBA public that they truly are one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. They have perhaps the toughest opponent of all with home-court advantage, facing a team with immense playoff and league experience that brings the two most accomplished players in the series.
Players understand the difficult task. They came out of their three days of full training feeling prepared for the challenge.
“I’m delighted to finally be able to play (Sunday),” said striker/centre Al Horford. “(The week off) was nice but it was long. Sometimes you wait so long to play that it’s a bit of a pain, but eventually it’s going to be there and we can actually play some games.
All week, Celtics players have been asked about Brown’s comments after the Nets’ win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he said the Nets would attack Horford and Daniel Theis in the paint with Williams one of the main protectors. of the league’s rim, missing early games after knee surgery.
Horford and Marcus Smart weren’t biting. Neither wanted to counter Brown’s bravado with their own bravado or make it a more controversial series.
“I’m excited to start (Sunday),” Horford said. “My things are done on the floor and we’re looking forward to the full challenge.”
Smart, perhaps the Celtics’ most boastful player, also had a few words in response to Brown. The Celtics keep their strategies and opinions to themselves. They are about business.
“That’s his opinion,” Smart said. “I’m sure they have things there that they would like to accomplish as a team. He said what he said. I’m good friends with Bruce and that’s his competitive nature. I wouldn’t expect him to say anything else, just like I wouldn’t expect us to say anything else about our team. I understand (their strategy) but like (Durant) said, it won’t be that easy.
The fine line that Coach Ime Udoka and his team must walk is to stick to the principles that made them the No. 1 defensive team, but also to throw in new wrinkles and new tricks to confuse Durant and Irving. . The Celtics can’t be predictable against two savvy veterans who’ve seen every type of defense, but they have to rely on what they do well.
It’s the challenge of preparing for a seven-game series where adjustments are made every half or even every quarter.
“I think it’s important to continue being what we have been, which is to keep at a high level; we don’t want it to be a shootout,” Udoka said. “For the most part , be who we are. He’s pretty good. It got us to where we are this year. Whether it’s Luka (Doncic), Trae Young or different guys throughout the season, I think we mix up the matchups and give (Durant and Irving) different looks to try to unbalance them.
Udoka points to the fourth quarter of the March 6 game when the Celtics outscored the Nets 37-30 and held Durant to six field goal attempts in nine minutes. It wasn’t exactly a stellar defensive effort but it was enough to hold Brooklyn back.
“We have some defensive things that we haven’t done a lot this year which obviously can play against them,” Udoka said. “They are on our list of adjustments, but we will first base it on what we are doing well before trying to get too delicate. If they can keep scoring against our top defenders, we can do some things but we will rely on who we have been all year. This is what allowed us to be number 1 defensively.
The Celtics are tired of talking and tired of training. They’re ready for what will be the biggest challenge of some of these players’ careers, the first round streak against two future Hall of Famers with expectations for a long, overflowing playoff streak.
It’s ball time.
“We understand how great these guys are. We understand this is going to take a full team effort and we understand the challenge,” Smart said. “As a competitor and a professional, you try to do something special for your team and yourself. Moments like this you live for. You can’t get up for those times, you’re in the wrong professional. We’re (about) to go out there and play against two of the greatest basketball players in the game and do it. Being on the same field and going out there and competing and working and challenging with these guys is definitely something I look forward to every moment. It’s gonna be fun.”
Gary Washburn is a columnist for The Globe. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.