The Celtics were preseason favorites to come out of a LeBron-less Eastern Conference, but they just finished a road trip out west where they dropped four of five. Their lone win was the result of a Herculean Kyrie Irving effort to come back in the fourth and win in overtime against a Suns team with the worst record in the West. Irving said as much to NBC Boston after their 100-94 loss in Portland on Sunday dropped them to 7-6 on the year.
"When it comes to getting punched in the mouth a few times we come out and—clearly we outmatch teams at dang near every position," Irving said after the game. "We needed this. We're not as good as we think we are. That's really what it comes down to. I said it at the beginning of the seasons: The excitement is just done. You know.
"It's real basketball now, so it's not just about the potential of the team or where we'll be at the end of the season. It's right now and taking care of what presently is in front of us. And we have challenges, we have barriers to get over as a team [and] individually. So, for us to be special we just have to to get through some challenges."
All is obviously not right with the C's, but it's not as simple as overconfidence. The whispers backup PG Terry Rozier is itchy to play more of a starters' minutes could crescendo, and Gordon Hayward still looks like a husk of his former all-star self in Utah, particularly on the defensive end. Even Irving started the season slow before some timely Tommy Heinsohn comments had him going harder on the treadmill.
After Boston's run to within a game of the NBA Finals last spring, despite missing their two biggest stars, they were the clear-cut frontrunners to serve as Golden State's June-time fodder coming into the season. But coach Mike Budenholzer has turned the Bucks into a real threat with Giannis Anteotkounmpo and four floor-spacing shooters, Kawhi Leonard appears to be back in the MVP discussion in Toronto, and Philly just got Jimmy Butler without losing Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid. The C's better start doing something or they're liable to start a second-round series on the road and need some shamrock serendipity to actually meet preseason expectations.