CHICAGO – The Boston Celtics have taken a five-game stroll up to the front door of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. It’s time to ring the doorbell and walk on in.
The issue at hand, however, is that the majority of these Celtics are unaware of how to take their next step.
Fifteen players are on the roster. Eleven of them are unaware of what it even feels like to win an NBA playoff series.
Boston’s coach, meanwhile, is widely respected, but he has only five career postseason victories under his belt. Three of them have been earned during this series. So he, too, has never advanced in the NBA Playoffs.
But there comes a point in time when every talented player and coach in this league will win his first postseason series. Maybe this is the moment for those 11 players and their coach to do so together, along with their four who have already tasted playoff success.
After all, this Celtics team just feels different than the ones that made it to the postseason the last couple of seasons. This team’s confidence is sky high. This team won the most games in the East. This team responds to every form of adversity, highlighted by its current three-game winning streak after falling behind 0-2 in its series against Chicago.
It’s no surprise that this team feels different after adding Al Horford to the fold this past offseason. Horford is one of the four players on the Celtics who has won a playoff series in his career, along with Avery Bradley, Amir Johnson and Gerald Green. Horford has experienced the most success out of all of them.
That’s a key reason why Boston signed him to a massive contract this past summer. He is a proven winner.
Horford has been to the Playoffs during every season he has played in the NBA – all 10 of them – while winning six series. He also won two national championships during three years at Florida.
Simply put, he knows how to win, and his presence on this team cannot be overstated.
Just look at Wednesday’s pivotal Game 5, during which Horford was the start of the night. He threatened to log a triple-double from the center position while tallying 21 points, a game-high nine assists, seven rebounds and a steal.
It’s performances like those that prove that Boston is a better team with him on board, but it is better not only because of his basketball abilities, but also because of his pure presence.
Horford’s demeanor serves as a calming factor for this team, as was showcased when it fell behind 0-2 in the series. Horford walked to the postgame podium and was asked what the Celtics needed to do to turn things around. His response was simple: take it day-by-day, and win the next one.
He’s likely relaying that same message to the C’s now, even though they are on the brink of advancing to the next round.
Meanwhile, Stevens, who has never been in this situation before, sounds as if he is preaching a similar message. He was bland yet genuine in his response Thursday afternoon after being asked what the key is to this group winning its first playoff series together.
“I just think we have to prepare to play the best that we’ve played yet. That’s the bottom line,” he said before practice at the United Center. “I don’t think that there’s a secret formula or any magic to it. The magic’s going to be in how you play. Our job today is to prepare to play our best game that we’ve played yet.”
The Celtics have done exactly that over their last three games, and it has worked. They have gotten better and better, playing well enough overall to snag playoff victories despite shooting well below their averages.
Now they are on the brink of the second round, which is no surprise to Boston. This is what the Celtics expected after signing Horford, it’s what they expected heading into the postseason, and it’s even what they expected after falling behind 0-2 in this very series.
They’ve reached the place in the first round of the Playoffs where they planned to be all along, and that’s the doorstep of the Conference Semifinals.
Now it’s time for many members of this group to walk on in for the first time in their NBA careers.