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The Boston Celtics have recently been the NBA’s model of inconsistency. Is it because they’re bored? After embarrassing losses to the Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards, they made the ultimate statement against the Milwaukee Bucks. A 41-point win on the road against the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks on Thursday showed that Boston is the best team in the conference — at least for that night.

The Boston Celtics aren’t good enough to turn it on and off

Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics dribbles the ball against Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half at Fiserv Forum on March 30, 2023, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. | Patrick McDermott/Getty Images.

The Boston Celtics are talented. They are hungry. They are also tough to figure out. Consistency is the problem. Or is it lack of motivation?

Boston is the deepest team in the NBA. The offseason acquisition of Malcolm Brogdon cured what ailed the Celtics last year — depth. The veteran guard has been the perfect leader for a second unit that’s given Boston a boost it didn’t always have last season.

The Celtics entered the 2022-23 season hungry. They were motivated by the loss to the Golden State Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals. Boston watched Golden State celebrate on its home court after a Game 6 win that wrapped up the series. For most of this season, that motivation showed. They held the NBA’s best record for most of the year.

Despite winning five of their last six games, the Celtics haven’t shown consistent production. Their last three losses (Washington, Utah, and Houston) were all ugly. In the Wizards game, they played with a lack of emotion, heart, or whatever term you want to use. They entered the game as an 11.5-point favorite, and Washington was without Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma. Washington dominated from the start, outplaying Boston in every aspect.

In Utah, Boston blew a 19-point lead in a 118-117 loss. Against the lowly Rockets, Boston fell 111-109 as Celtics star Jayson Tatum missed a last-second layup that would have sent the game into overtime.

It’s clear Boston plays to the level of competition. They’re just not good enough to do that.

The Celtics had a statement game against the Bucks

After those three ugly losses, the Celtics put together their best performance of the season. On a nationally-televised game, Boston went into Milwaukee and made a statement. The Celtics set the tone early in a 140-99 victory.

“We responded well from the jump,” Tatum said, per ESPN. “That’s all that I wanted and we wanted as a team, regardless of if we won or not, just to respond and play better than we did last game.”

The Celtics were motivated and played like it for 48 minutes. Tatum and Jaylen Brown, arguably the best duo in the game, combined for 70 points, with Tatum leading the way with 40. While Boston remains 1.5 games behind the Bucks for the top seed in the East, they made sure the Bucks took notice.

“We know what the deal is,” said Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose 24 points led Milwaukee. “If you’re not focused and you don’t play hard, they are going to kick our (butt). Simple as that. There is no level of concern. It’s a fact. If we play the same way, we’ll have the same outcome. We’ve got to have some pride.”

The Celtics and Bucks are clearly the top two teams in the East and should eventually meet in the postseason. Celtics fans, however, might have reason to be more concerned about the first round, where motivation might not be as high for Boston.


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