At 20-18, and sitting in the eight seed in the East, the stretch between tonights game against the Bulls to the All-Star break will be crucial. Boston plays 14 games before All-Star weekend, including some tough opponents: Bulls, Knicks, Hawks, Heat, Clippers, Lakers, Nuggets, and the Bulls again. This stretch is going to be huge for the team, they will either gain the momentum that they need to be considered a contender in the second half of the season, or remain a spotty team struggling to get into the playoffs.
Two things were made clear earlier this season when the Celtics played well: 1) Rajon Rondo has to lead with his aggressive play. 2) Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett must carry the team emotionally.
Two more things have been made clear in the last eight games: 1) Avery Bradley's "in your shorts" defense and hustle can not have a value put on it. 2) The bench play can not only carry this team at times, but keep Rondo fresher.
When these four things work in tandem, as they did for the win streak, the Celtics are tough to beat. However expecting all of those keys to be present every game is unrealistic. Some nights Rondo can carry the team (his triple double against the Bobcats). Some nights Pierce and Garnett will need to jump in the time machine and be the stars (game against the Knicks at MSG). Some nights the bench will need to limit the starters minutes and take over the game (game against the Suns led by Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger). And Avery Bradley is just special because if he is healthy he seems to be the one constant, always playing as hard as he can.
It seemingly does not matter which way the Celtics win on a particular night, but it is evident that they can not win the same way every night. If this roster is to find themselves in another Conference Championship, they may have to be comfortable not having a true identity, and unlike many teams, win in different ways. We will see if they can do it starting tonight against the Bulls in game one of these all important 14 games prior to the break.