BOSTON — The Boston Celtics certainly heard the hype before the season.
It would have been difficult to miss. The Celtics were considered favorites in the Eastern Conference, the heirs apparent to the Cleveland Cavaliers as a team destined for the Finals. There was talk the entire starting lineup could make the All-Star game. Adding Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to a squad of young players who made an Eastern Conference Finals run was supposed to turn Boston into a juggernaut.
Instead, the Celtics stumbled out of the gate. Why?
On Tuesday, after the Celtics put together an encouraging three-game winning streak, Jayson Tatum said part of the problem might be that the team believed everything that was said about them.
“I think it was a lot of different reasons,” Tatum said. “Maybe we believed the hype too much and we didn’t come out and perform. There was a big target on our backs. The teams were coming after us and we didn’t understand that. Nothing we can do about the past, just focus on the next game.”
Despite encouraging wins against the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors, which could suggest Boston still could be competitive deep into the postseason, the Celtics have scuffled against inferior opponents — including home losses to the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic. In those games, the Celtics may not have taken their opponent as seriously as they deserved.
Marcus Smart, who has been a big part of the catalyst for Boston’s recent success, wasn’t sure if the hype was the issue, but he did believe the Celtics needed to adjust their attitude. If the Celtics did believe their own hype, they are awake now.
“I think the hype did that for us on its own,” Smart said. “It’s funny because if you don’t humble yourself, the world has a way of humbling you for you. As far as what we’ve been going through, it was something we needed.”
The improvements have been incremental but evident. Perhaps more important than the hype: Gordon Hayward is finding his shot coming off the bench, Tatum is attacking the basket more frequently, and both Smart and Marcus Morris have injected life into the first unit. The offense has been on the rise, and the defense has been solid (although Brad Stevens said he wanted to see more on that end).
So hype may have been an issue, but the fix was simply better basketball.
“We’ve just been playing better,” Tatum said. “Starting the game, everybody individually has been doing better. Hopefully we get (Jaylen Brown) back soon. We’ve been winning, so just build off that.”