This is a public service announcement.
Open up your calendars. Here are your free dates in June.
Anything before June 6 is good. June 7, 8, 10, 11, and 13, are definitely open. June 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, and 22 are probably open. June 24, 25, and 26 are crap shoots.
Mark all those dates down. Don’t plan any vacations around that time. Don’t plan a spring wedding. Don’t organize a family reunion.
The NBA Finals begin on June 6, Game 4 is on the 14th, and a Game 7 would be on the 23rd, and I’m telling you all right now that everyone in Boston should plan ahead, because these Celtics are going.
And don’t get cute with the off days because I’d plan on going to a parade somewhere in there, too.
There’s something different about these guys. They’re like the kid who went into college a little nerdy and insecure and graduated taller, filled out, and charming as hell.
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From top to bottom, this is a group that carries themselves with confidence. It’s not an in-your-face bravado that walks into a bar and announces all challengers are welcome to get their asses kicked whenever they please. It’s the kind of unbothered air that laughs when some loudmouth steps up, and tells him to run along before he gets hurt.
It’s new, and it’s noticeable. There are a lot of new people around the team this year and they all have a similar feeling. The practices are harder and more focused. The intensity is higher than anyone remembers. The competitiveness is off the charts.
This is the point of the conversation where you open up your calendar app to mark these dates down, see that you’re doing it on October 20, and you hold it up to my face and ask me if I’m nuts making a definitive statement like “plan for a parade.”
And I get it. It is a little nuts.
This is the time of year when every team is feeling themselves. There are people talking themselves into the championship hopes in a dozen cities right now. Why is Boston any different from any of those teams?
I’ll put it this way … if you sit out on your porch every day at 8:00 a.m. to drink your coffee and watch the world go by, you tend to notice a few things. Let’s say that every day at 8:15, the same guy walked by with his dog before heading out to work. Then one day you see him with nicer clothes, his belly is a little flatter, and his hair is styled a little better. You’d probably think to yourself that he’s got something good going on in his life because of how he’s cleaned up.
That’s what I see here.
I see Jayson Tatum not only working in the post, but seeking out the contact so he can use it against the defender. We haven’t seen a ton of him this preseason, but bits we’ve seen show a much more mature, well-rounded attack. He’s under control, playing with some more force, and really trying to do everything he can on both ends.
I see Kristaps Porzingis waltz right into this lineup and immediately make a massive difference. I see an element that never existed. And with all due respect to Marcus Smart, who I’ve defended with my online life for years, this was absolutely the right move by Brad Stevens. This is just better.
I see Jrue Holiday’s defense, which helps get past losing Smart on its own, and an offensive attack that matches it regardless of where he is on the floor. I see how coaches light up when they talk about him.
I see Derrick White, who is doing everything the team needs all over the floor at a postseason level before he’s even dressed his kids up for Halloween (probably because he joined me on the right side of the shaved head history, but that’s another story for another time).
I can do this all night with the whole roster. I can talk about how focused Jaylen Brown is, or how youthful Al Horford looks, and how confidentlyJayson Tatum is running this team in the early going.
Can that all change? Sure it can. Could this entire piece look like impetuous cheerleading after a preseason blowout of a bad team? You bet.
But I think I’m right. I think these guys get it now. I think these guys have either figured out how they need to act to get to where they want to go, or they’ve accomplished all the things distracting them from the task at hand. Whether you choose to be optimistic or cynical about the path here is up to you — I’m sure there’s some of both at play there anyway — but it doesn’t change the fact that this is where they are.
And I like where they are right now. Boston has itself an honest-to-goodness champion in the making. This is a team built to win now and later. It’s a team that not only understands the goal, but also understands the process of achieving it.
Maybe it’s because they finally got some folks in here with rings they had to fight for and earn instead of riding a generational talent to a fitting at Balfour.
Whatever it is, I think the Celtics have found something. There’s an incredible amount of work to do, and they’ll need the same amount of luck every champion gets along the way, but the Celtics are championship material.
It’s not that they can win it all. They’ve been at “can win” for a few years now.
Now they should. And that’s what we should expect.