The Celtics have shown remarkable toughness all season long, no more so than during this six-game win streak they are on. With their top two players injured in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward — as well as nagging injuries to numerous other key players popping up game-to-game — the C’s have stayed remarkably consistent. They have backed down from no one all season long.
Marcus Morris has spearheaded this movement in Boston, and he has given the Celtics that intimidation factor that frankly had been missing since Kevin Garnett was traded to Brooklyn nearly five years ago. Morris was in the face of Toronto’s CJ Miles at the tail-end of the C’s highly impressive 110-99 victory over the Raptors Saturday night at the Garden. Morris got ejected, but the message had been sent: You’re not talking mess or taking any liberties against me or any of my teammates.
This wasn’t the first time Morris was involved in a late-game scuffle as Morris took issue with what he called a Ben Simmons “cheap shot” at the end of the Celtics’ 114-103 victory over the Sixers in London back in early January. In that incident, Simmons hit Morris with a forearm shiver while the C’s forward was looking to set a screen. Morris fell to the ground but popped right back up and shoved the Sixers rookie, inciting something of a skirmish.
“Just a little bit of frustration kicked in [with Simmons],” Morris said. “He just took a cheap shot. That’s OK. I take a lot of cheap shots too. “
Incidents like these will surely happen in the playoffs when teams get tired of seeing one another and chippiness is at a high. There were plenty of beefs during the Celtics’ playoff series against the Wizards last spring, but with Morris now in the fold — one has got to think that a player like Washington’s Kelly Oubre would think twice about charging and knocking down a Celtics player (remember the Kelly Olynyk incident?). Morris — and Irving to an extent — has given the Celtics their tough swagger back.
And while they’re not exactly the Bad Boy Pistons, in today’s NBA the Celtics are certainly one of the hardened Alpha dogs in the toughness department.
No. 1 seed very possible
For a month it has seemed as though the Celtics would be locked into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, particularly with Irving’s injury having become the main worry with the club and with Cleveland, Philly and Indiana all a good six or seven games behind Boston in the standings.
But the No. 1 seeded Raptors have gone just 3-4 in the past two weeks, and the Celtics have ripped off six straight in that span. Now, the race is on.
The Celtics are just two games behind the Raptors with six games left to play, and have another head-to-head matchup with them this coming Wednesday in Toronto (8 p.m., ESPN).
The Celtics also have a considerably easier schedule than the Raptors down the stretch as they’ll face teams with a combined 154-226 record. Toronto, meanwhile, will face teams with a combined record of 190-190.