addByline("Marc D'Amico", "Celtics.com", "Marc_DAmico");
ATLANTA – Brad Stevens and his Celtics are riding a 14-game winning streak into Atlanta, a streak that indicates a well-oiled machine will show up tonight to Philips Arena. Stevens, however, views the streak through very a different lens.
“We haven’t played well enough to consider this win streak to be valid, in my opinion,” he candidly told Celtics.com at Saturday morning’s shootaround, ahead of a matchup with the Hawks.
Stevens has consistently singled out his team’s offense as a cause for concern. As recently as Thursday night, when the C’s downed the defending-champion Golden State Warriors, they connected on only 32.9 percent of their field goal attempts. That’s a dreadful rate.
Eight of the team’s 14 wins have now come on nights during which it has shot 42.0 percent or worse from the field.
Boston has been winning through its elite defense, which is fine for the here and now, but Stevens is well aware that Boston must excel in all areas of the game in order to consistently win as the season progresses.
All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving seemed to subtly agree with his coach Saturday morning. He was posed a question about his team now playing with a target on his back. He scoffed at the terminology that was used in the question, cracking back, “We have a target on our back now? That’s a great perspective.”
His response was an indication that he, too, believes that the Celtics are not playing a well as their record may indicate. They are not playing a superb brand of basketball, and they are far from unbeatable.
The Celtics are clearly staying grounded, but the facts are the facts: they have beaten 14 consecutive opponents, and that’s all opponents like the Hawks see.
Teams like Atlanta are well aware of what Boston has accomplished, and these teams are motivated to bring the streak to an end. That’s where Boston’s humility may come into play as a positive.
The C’s just came off of an emotional win in primetime Thursday night against the Warriors. They are the best team in the league. It would be easy for them to ride into Philips Arena tonight with cocky looks on their faces and with the assumption that they’ll easily defeat the 3-12 Hawks.
But that’s not how this Celtics team thinks, as Stevens indicated with his validity comment, and Irving confirmed with his retort to a reporter.
“Everybody in the NBA is here for a reason,” said rookie Jayson Tatum. “So if one team doesn’t come to play, then you can lose. Anybody can lose on any given night, because everybody is a professional.”
The Celtics know that they’ve won 14 straight, but they also know that they aren’t playing perfect basketball. Underestimating the Hawks, who just scored 126 points during a win Wednesday night, would be a streak-ending mistake.