The self-proclaimed gritty, grinding Memphis Grizzlies took the court Wednesday at the TD Garden, but it was the Boston Celtics who stole their identity.
The Celtics' 95-92 win over the Grizzlies is their latest and greatest, and it happened without their new weapon, Isaiah Thomas, who sat out with a bruised lower back and left elbow that also leaves him doubtful to play this weekend. But what the Celtics lacked in physical bodies they didn't lack in effort and confidence against one of the best teams in the NBA. And now, at 27-36, the Celtics sit just 1.5 games out of the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, currently held by the Miami Heat - a team the Celtics beat on Monday in Miami.
In fact, they've won four of their last five, and seven of 10 games, and that doesn't include the big win over the Hawks to go into the All-Star break.
It's true; the Celtics are making a playoff push. And that doesn't surprise anybody inside the locker room.
The confidence comes from the top down, starting with head coach Brad Stevens, who the players have completely bought into.
Avery Bradley, who on Wednesday put the Celtics up by three points with seven seconds to play, couldn't get through his postgame press conference without crediting Stevens multiple times.
“We’ve been in every game - except the Cleveland game - after All-Star Break, so it shows that we’re making strides and we’re continuing to be a better team,” Bradley told reporters. “I think it all starts from Brad. Brad is getting us all together, having us believe in one another, we’re like a family out there. We’re a lot closer than we were and it shows on the court.”
Stevens has taken an always-changing roster that has lost Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger and more, and made it work. And his players realize just how smart of a coach he is.
Take Wednesday’s game again for example. Down one point with 52 seconds to go, Stevens called a timeout and drew up a play that had Evan Turner inbounding to a streaking Marcus Smart. Smart caught the ball over defender Courtney Lee and in the same motion layed it in while getting fouled. He hit the free throw, and the Celtics held on from there.
"[Stevens] has some good stuff with his package of play-calling,” Jae Crowder told reporters. “I believe in it. Whatever he tells us to do we're running it hard.”
And that belief goes deeper than just plays.
"It's all in-house,” Crowder said. “We know we're playing for one another. Look to the right and to the left and know you're playing for that guy.”