Before defeating the Portland Trail Blazers 115-93 on Wednesday night, the Celtics had been on a three-game losing streak, which included a loss to the Knicks, and two straight losses in overtime to the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers respectively. Before that skid the Celtics were ensconced firmly in first place in the NBA Eastern Conference, but now see themselves trailing the first place Milwaukee Bucks by 2.5 games. Franchise legends Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett however, are confident that the Celtics can reclaim their first place spot and attribute the recent skid to teams across the league taking the Celtics more seriously now on account of their new stature as a top-tier team.
“Other teams are encouraged,” Garnett said on Showtime’s “Ticket & The Truth.” “When you’re the hunted -”
“That’s the thing they’ve got to understand,” Pierce interjected. “When you have the target on your back – they used to be the team that was chasing. Now, they’re going to be getting everybody’s best.”
Garnett and Pierce specified the Celtics’ struggles against the Nets, where Boston blew a 28-point lead, as well as their loss against the Knicks, where they lost in double overtime and blew a 13-point lead as examples of opposing teams and players giving it their all as a chance to put a notch on their belts in saying they defeated the Celtics.
“Everybody [is giving them their best],” Garnett said. “Man, when the Knicks played them in Boston, Quickley [was playing well].” Garnett was pointing out Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley’s 38-point performance, which was a career-high for the third-year player.
“Did you see Brooklyn?” Pierce inquired.
“Yeah, I didn’t see any one of them play like that before man,” Garnett replied, citing Nets forward Mikal Bridges’s 38-point endeavor alongside the efforts of Cam Johnson (20 points, 5 rebounds), Spencer Dinwiddie (17 points, 8 assists), and Dorian Finney-Smith (17 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks).
Although the Celtics went into the All-Star Break with the best record in the NBA (42-17), Pierce attributed the Celtics’ struggles to “going through a little lull” and that such circumstances are usually what happens when a team comes out of the gates so fast (the Celtics started the season with a phenomenal 18-4 record).
“They’re going through their little lull right now,” Pierce added. “They understand that the playoffs are coming but this is the best time of the year when you’ve really got to pick it up. They jumped out of the gate fast and they maintained it. They didn’t really have a lot of peaks and valleys. They had a high peak and a small valley in the middle of the season. Now, they’re going into that valley again and I don’t know, this isn’t the right time to be going into that valley.”
Pierce also pointed out that the Celtics were dealing with key injuries, namely with reining defensive player of the year Marcus Smart and Robert Williams.
“But they’re dealing with some injuries,” Pierce continued. “Marcus Smart missed some time. Robert Williams is missing some time. So, I’m not sure if it’s a chemistry issue. I’m not too worried about them. I see them as a team that’s built for the playoffs. They’ve got a great understanding right now. They’ve been to the Eastern Conference finals a number of times and they’ve been to the Finals. If it continues, I’d get a little worried but sometimes you have those little hiccups before you really get to it.”
Garnett agreed with Pierce’s points, affirming that the Celtics needed to get out of the slump and stay healthy — and that he’d put them “up against anybody in a seven-game series” if that was the case.
“I’m not worried about the C’s,” Garnett said. “I think it’s a situation where you’re going to go through peaks and valleys. The big question mark with me when it comes to the C’s is everybody healthy? Is everybody healthy man? Then let’s get it. Let’s ride. I’d put them up against anybody in a seven-game series.”
What do you think of the comments made by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on Celtics’ struggles? Do you think the Celtics are simply going through a post-All-Star game slump? Let us know in the comments.