Celtics Begin Tough Stretch Against East-Leading Nets

BOSTON –  The Boston Celtics have just begun to pick up steam, winning eight of their last 11 games while improving their record to 10-8 on the season.

But now, things are about to get tough.

Only three of Boston’s next 15 opponents currently have a losing record, two of which – the Toronto Raptors (8-10) and the Los Angeles Lakers (9-10) – have won NBA championships in the last three years.

The arduous stretch will begin Wednesday night at TD Garden with a matchup against the Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets (13-5). Then, it’s off to San Antonio (4-12) and Toronto (8-10) to knock off two of those sub-.500 teams, before returning home for one game against Philadelphia (10-8).

On. Dec. 3, Boston will begin a five-game trip out west, starting with a back-to-back in Utah (11-6) and Portland (10-8), followed by a back-to-back in Los Angeles against the Lakers (9-10) and Clippers (10-8), before wrapping up in Phoenix (14-3).

Then it’s home for five games against Milwaukee (10-8), Golden State (15-2), New York (10-8), Philadelphia (10-8), and Cleveland (9-9), before heading to Milwaukee for a Christmas matchup against the Bucks.

“We’re just going to use this opportunity to show who we are,” Grant Williams said following Wednesday morning’s shootaround in Brighton. “That’s the biggest thing: we’re a team that’s gonna compete with everyone, no matter who is coming onto the floor that night, whether it’s home or away, and that’s kind of how we have to approach each game.”

And the best way to approach such a stretch is to take it one game at a time.

“We have a Brooklyn Nets team that we have to focus on tonight, then it’s San Antonio next, but we gotta focus on the one that’s in front of us first,” Williams said. “And that’s kind of how we approach every game, every outlook throughout the season. We have a lot of guys who are going to see it that way and compete at the highest level.”

Boston will surely have to bring a high level of competitiveness into Wednesday night’s matchup against Brooklyn, especially since Jaylen Brown (return from injury management), Josh Richardson (non-COVID illness) and Robert Williams (non-COVID illness) are all listed as questionable to play.

“Just step up, next-man-up mentality,” Grant Williams said in anticipation of potentially missing some, if not all, of the above players. “It’s gonna be a great game. We’re gonna have to play hard. They have a lot of talent on the board, so we’ve just got to match their intensity, if not, excel it.”

The Celtics had a rough time matching the opposition’s intensity toward the beginning of the season, which led to a 2-5 start. However, they’ve picked it up in that department over the last 11 games, which has led them to the second-best record in the East over that span behind Brooklyn (9-2).

“I feel like guys are just having fun now,” Williams said. “Not just winning brings that fun out, but also playing with a little more heart and intensity and (building) camaraderie with one another. We see that in plays and actions, and when guys hit a shot you see the entire team go crazy – not just one person or one guy. That’s just been really inspirational for guys to see.”

The Celtics will need such camaraderie more than ever over the next several weeks, as the upcoming stretch of challenging foes should test their spirit and togetherness.

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