As they limped along through a 1-4 western road trip, with some discussion of changing lineups and rotations, and some chatter about the way they handled late-game, close-game situations with Kyrie Irving suggesting they needed some kind of calming veteran presence, the Boston Celtics were always the Boston Celtics.
And no one remotely connected with the NBA was thinking something terrible was amiss.
Certainly, it’s taken time for the Celtics to get into the full swing of things, with Irving and Gordon Hayward coming back into the fold. But it wasn’t as if they’d lost all their talent.
They still had Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and as deep a roster as exists in the Eastern Conference if not the entire NBA — they were going to figure things out.
Now that they’re home, and after they pasted the Chicago Bulls 111-82 on Wednesday night, the corner they have to finish turning might be right in front of them.
And what better tests than a rare home-and-home, back-to-back against the Raptors on Friday and the Utah Jazz on Saturday, a couple of NBA heavyweights who’ll give the Celtics an idea of how far they’ve come and how far they have to go.
“That’s just a competitor’s dream to be going against the best of the best,” Irving said of the coming weekend test. “Obviously, early season when we played them in Toronto, it wasn’t who we are now or what we’re trying to grow into, so I think it’ll just be a great test.”
It’s not as if the Celtics, even with the sluggish start, have fallen off the NBA radar. They are still 8-6, tied for third in the East going into play Thursday night and, after the seemingly tough weekend games, they have something of a cupcake schedule coming up that includes games against bottom-feeders like Chicago again, Atlanta, New York and Cleveland.
Things seem aligned for Boston to fully right itself.
“I think that coming into the season, we were all expecting that we would kind of just take over and that we’re very dangerous, and I feel like we’ve been humbled a little bit,” Al Horford told reporters after Wednesday’s game. “We’re in a position now that we have an opportunity to start building that, and we have to do it every night. If we’re able to do that, we’ll have a chance to be special.”
THINGS ARE LOOKING UP: Suddenly, the Los Angeles Lakers are in a bit of a groove. LeBron James passed Wilt Chamberlain and moved into fifth place on the all-time scoring list when James had 44 points — his first 40-plus game of the season — in a 126-117 win over Portland on Wednesday night.
It was the fourth straight victory for the Lakers and it’s all well and good to see what James is doing, but maybe there’s another reason the team is on the rebound? The Lakers haven’t lost since they signed Tyson Chandler after he got his release from the Phoenix Suns last week.
So James or Chandler? Which one is it?
LOOKING SHARP: The NBA relaxed its rules concerning the shoes players can wear this season. They no longer have to be primarily of the team’s colours or the colour of the uniforms, and it’s led to some wild looks so far, and some unique ones night to night. Brooklyn guard Spence Dinwiddie is designing his own a new pair of shoes for every game and they are being auctioned off for youth charities. This week, Dinwiddie did double-duty, as he designed shoes to raise money for a charity and also designed them to pay tribute to the late Stan Lee, the superhero creator who died this week at 95.
HOTTEST OF TAKE: No one in their right mind is going to judge the big trade between the Philadelphia 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves yet. But … Jimmy Butler did make his debut with the Sixers on Wednesday and they lost in Orlando, and Robert Covington and Dario Saric debuted for Minnesota on Wednesday and they won, so there’s that. But perhaps the most telling aspect is what Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor pointed out to Minneapolis-area newspapers, that Butler “had an agenda” and there was a “negative environment” around his team.
“It just appeared that they weren’t working together as a team or as a unit the way that they should’ve,” Taylor said. “I can’t exactly answer why. The only thing that was different that we had was Jimmy’s position of leaving the team.”
KARMA? Remember that night Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets tried to get to 50 points in a game against Boston with a last-second shot in a game already decided? It touched off a bit of a brouhaha — Boston’s Kyrie Irving was fined $25,000 for rifling the ball into the stands after the buzzer and many comments were made about Murray’s actions. Well, heading into a game Thursday night against Atlanta, the Nuggets had lost four straight since the Murray incident.
Coincidence? Probably. But maybe not, those basketball Gods can act in strange ways.
WANTS HIS MONEY BACK: After all the drama with the Golden State Warriors this week, it ends up being about dollars and sense.
Draymond Green got into an argument with Kevin Durant at the end of a loss to the Clippers, it carried over from the court to the locker room, harsh words were exchanged and Green ended up being suspended by the team for a game, an obvious statement about which side management took in the tussle. The one-game suspension cost Green about $120,000 in salary — digest that number if you can — and he was none-too-pleased about it. He accepted the suspension without much complaint but is now expected to appeal the fine, with the help of the players’ association, in an attempt to keep his hard-earned money.
Information from other publications and websites was used in the compilation of this report.
Doug Smith is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @smithraps