I’m not yet comfortable with my optimism, but it’s suddenly there. As well as the Celtics have played lately, and as nice as last night’s wire-to-wire win was, I can’t shake the image of the last three months: Boston taking lump… after lump… after lump. With that putridity still in mind, it’s hard to believe that the Celtics are back to being a bona fide contender. Still, they’ve been doing their best to convince me that their recent surge of championship-caliber play is The Truth.
Paul Pierce, in a self-imposed boycott of the media for the past two weeks, has hopped in the Hot Tub Time Machine and morphed back into his former self. After months of shying away from isolations, unable to beat his defender one-on-one, Pierce is back to scoring and scoring in bunches. Last night, with the Rockets threatening to come back and steal a victory from Boston’s grasp, Pierce opened up a can of Truth. 15 fourth-quarter points for Pierce later, he had willed the Celtics to their most impressive win of 2010 with 26 total points. He has now scored 25 or more points in two straight games, doubling in only two games his total of 25+ point performances since Dec. 22.
Still, the fact that beating Houston — only the 9th-best team in the Western Conference — represents such a good victory shows how much the Celtics have left to prove. Luckily for them, they’ll have plenty of chances to prove themselves during a schedule filled for the next couple weeks with above-.500 opponents.
Tonight’s game in Dallas is Boston’s next test, and a better one than Houston. The C’s are on the road, on the second night of a back-to-back, and playing against a Mavericks team that has won 14 of its last 15 games and harbors legitimate championship aspirations. Tough game, no doubt.
But I’m starting to feel a little confidence. Optimism is creeping back in, and it feels so good. After 90 or so days of bleak outlook and fading hopes, breathe the optimism through your nostrils. Keep it in your lungs. Savor it.
Hope is abound. And who knows?
It might even be here to stay.
Three things to look for in tonight’s game:
- All-Star vs. All-Star – How will Kevin Garnett defend Dirk Nowitzki? When KG missed last game, Dirk ran wild with 37 points. Can KG do a better job?
- Matchup problems? – After a midseason trade allowed them to acquire both Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler, the Mavs now present serious matchup difficulties for a lot of teams, including the Celtics. The only matchup I’m truly comfortable with tonight is Rondo vs. Kidd… and Kidd had 13 points and 17 assists last time the two teams met.
- Turnovers – Jason Kidd has always been a good point guard in transition, but is now downright lethal with the amount of weapons this Mavericks team has. He has Butler and Marion running the wings, Dirk spotting up, and Haywood… well, let’s just forget we brought up Haywood. If the Celtics turn the ball over, it could mean easy buckets for Dallas and a long night. I know this isn’t the way the saying normally goes, but the C’s have to turn good offense into good defense.