Celtics recreate the mystique of 2008

That face says it all for the Boston Celtics.

It’s October 2009. You’re a Boston Celtics fan. The season is about to start, and your team has just added Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels to a troupe of stars. Things are looking great, and you’ve already forgotten the exit in the conference semifinals during the playoffs.

Fast forward a few months, and things don’t look so great. Paul Pierce is playing poorly, Ray Allen can’t seem to hit a shot, and Kevin Garnett seems way past his prime. The one bright spot is Rajon Rondo, the point guard of the future. The team has blasted with disappointments, not the least of which is a home loss to the lowly New Jersey Nets. The quest for another title seems lost, and the days of the Big Three seem over.

No so fast.

Since this year’s playoffs began, the Boston Celtics have looked more like the champions of 2008 rather than the underachievers of 2010, and more than anything, it has been thanks to some intangible factors.

Foremost, there seems to be a newfound desire to win amid the team — and no Cetics player has embodied that shift in philosophy than Wallace. Often the butt of jokes about lacking effort and the object of criticism that he could be one of the best players of all-time if he tried, ‘Sheed has noticed the potential to come away with a title this year. All it took was a little prodding and nudging from his coach, Doc Rivers, to get him on the right path. Since Rivers’s encouragement, Wallace has been playing to win the game: taking quality open shots instead of chucking up three-pointers, playing inspired defense, and realizing the concept of teamwork that makes the Celtics run.

But the improvement in that area is not limited just to Wallace’s actions; everyone on the team seems passionate about the team’s success. Watching Game 2 against the Magic, whenever a player hit the floor after a foul, three or four other Celtics on the floor swarmed around him to help him up and scowl at the offender. It’s that kind of backing that can sway the outcome of close games.

So when Matt Barnes elects to help Rondo up after a tough foul, and Mark Jackson adeptly pointed this out, it’s a sign of weakness. It’s not a display of competitive nature to help your opponent up even if it is “nice.” Barnes’s action is indicative of how the Magic just don’t seem in it to win it. It’s more of a game than a battle of life and death, as the Celtics see it.

And the competitiveness and passion translate into greater basketball success on the court: more offensive rebounds, better looks, grittier defense, and just more balls in the basket. When you are motivated to score, the form on your jump shot is that much sounder, the timing of your block attempt is that much more precise, and the finish of your dunk is that much more vicious.

The Celtics have figured this out, and the Magic still need to get on board; that’s why they’re down 2-0 going to the TD Garden for two road games.

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