If Celts Can Roll Into All-Star Break... Watch Out

BOSTON – It will be tough sledding for the Boston Celtics leading up to the 2018 All-Star break. The next seven games, however, stand as a great opportunity for the team to build momentum heading into the stretch run of the season.

Five of Boston’s next seven opponents have at least 29 wins this season, ranking at the very worst sixth in their respective conferences. Six of the seven teams are in the thick of the playoff race, with tonight’s matchup against Atlanta being the only exception.

Some believe that the Celtics have been struggling of late, which would indicate that the next seven games could send them into a downward spiral. In reality, however, the Celts have been playing strong basketball for more than a week (and, realistically, for the entire season with the exception of a few defeats).

Boston has won three of its last four games, with its only loss arriving narrowly by four points on the road at the hands of the defending-champion Golden State Warriors. The Celts are coming off of a true momentum-builder Wednesday night, as well, after they obliterated the New York Knicks in front of a national audience.

Wednesday’s victory was important for multiple reasons.

First and foremost, it was an absolute blowout thanks to a dominant defensive performance. The best defensive team in the league put together its best defensive effort of the season, limiting New York to just 73 points on 32.2 percent shooting

Secondly, the Celtics proved that they can get it done at the offensive end without both their All-Star point guard, Kyrie Irving, and their backup point guard, Marcus Smart.

Irving missed Wednesday’s game with a right quad contusion and Smart remains sidelined with a right hand laceration. In their absence, Terry Rozier stepped into his first career start and managed to log a triple-double, all while fueling the Celtics to a 103-point game that featured 48.2 percent shooting.

Boston will be without Irving and Smart again tonight, as well as reserve guard Shane Larkin (right knee soreness) and forward Marcus Morris (bruised left hip), but they now know they have the ability to get it done without their trove of guards. Rozier, in particular, has shown that he can perform at a very high level when given an expanded role.

The Celtics will need Rozier and the rest of the crew do so again tonight against the Hawks. Atlanta’s record is what it is, at a league-worst 15-36, but it is an NBA team with NBA talent, and every NBA team is capable of winning on any given night. It should also be noted that the Hawks have seven different players averaging at least 10.0 points per game.

Following this Friday-night matchup with Atlanta, Boston will then need to get its chief scorer back, as well as Smart, Larkin and Morris, because the competition will only amplify from that point forward.

Sunday’s opponent, Portland, has one of the league’s elite point guards in Damian Lillard, and one of the league’s top guard combos in Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Tuesday’s opponent, the Raptors, are right on Boston’s heels for the top seed in the East. The Wizards, whom the C’s play Thursday night, took Boston to seven games during the Conference Semifinals last season. And the Celtics round out this stretch by playing All-Star guard Victor Oladipo and his red-hot Pacers, LeBron James and the always-dangerous Cavaliers on Paul Pierce’s jersey retirement day, and finally, one last showdown with the new-look LA Clippers.

That’s a lot of talent Boston must face in a matter of only 13 days. But just imagine how much momentum the Celtics will have built if they can somehow with four or five of these next seven contests.

A 5-2 finish would put the C’s at 42-17 on the season, and the team will have won eight of its final 11 games heading into the break while battling through a West Coast road trip, a face-off with best team in the league in Golden State, and a challenging final stretch before the break.

That’s the type of momentum that could propel the Celtics through their final 23 games of the season, and potentially toward a berth into the NBA Finals.