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Now it’s time for the Boston Celtics to get serious. On Saturday, they host the Atlanta Hawks in the first step toward making a return trip to the NBA Finals. This year, the Celtics are motivated and hungry after coming up short against the Golden State Warriors in the championship round a year ago.

Led by veteran point guard Marcus Smart, the Celtics can now officially be considered an experienced group as the 2023 postseason begins. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the team’s two stars, now have a taste of playing in an NBA championship. Smart got right to the points when speaking about Boston’s mentality when heading into Saturday’s postseason opener.

Marcus Smart tells it like it is as the Boston Celtics head into the playoffs

Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics reacts against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half at Fiserv Forum on March 30, 2023, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. | Patrick McDermott/Getty Images.

Although the Boston Celtics got over a hump last year, the players didn’t deem the season a success. Smart, Tatum, and Brown had already tasted life in the conference final, but never took part in the NBA Finals. The Celtics went through a grueling playoff run that landed them in the championship round for the first time since 2010.

Boston held a 2-1 series lead against the Warriors but then lost three straight. The Celtics watched the Warriors celebrate on Boston’s home court, fueling the first to get it done this year.

While the Celtics were all smiles and loose at practice this week, Smart said don’t expect those smiles to be around Saturday. Instead, they’ll be an angry group who felt like they let one get away last year.

“We’re back to pissed off,” Smart said at Thursday’s practice, per NBC Sports Boston. “Yeah, we’re happy and we’re smiling here, but we’re getting ready. We’re having fun with it, but Saturday when we step on that court, you’re not going to see many smiles.”

The Celtics finished one game being the Milwaukee Bucks for the top record in the eastern Conference. They’ll be the No. 2 seed, hosting the seventh-seeded Hawks on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

This is the moment the Celtics have been waiting for

After since they watched the Warriors celebrate their championship in Boston, the Celtics have looked forward to redemption. Tatum admitted it was a brutal summer for him, and he was anxious to back on the court and rid himself of that sour taste in his mouth.

“I’m just happy to be back playing basketball after the summer,” Tatum told Abby Chin of NBC Sports Boston early this season. “After losing in the Finals, all I could think about was just get ready to play again and start a new chapter.

“Said it a million times that it was a long, miserable summer, so I just wanted to get back out here and compete. I just want to win — don’t care about how many points I score. I just want to get back to that point.”

The Celtics take the first step to getting back to that point Saturday. Tatum said the team is focused and ready for the second season.

“The energy has been great,” he said Thursday. “Essentially been waiting for this moment, getting to the playoffs. The group is locked in, the group is focused. Everybody’s back and healthy. So we’re just preparing the right way.”


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