We certainly have had a whirlwind of a year here in Boston. There have been ups and there have been downs, but right now I think we’re in a good place. We’ve all been focused these last several weeks on coming together. This is what you play for—what we’ve worked for—to reach the playoffs and have the chance to win a title.
That’s the opportunity that’s in front of us, and we don’t take that lightly.
I’m really excited about getting the chance to play playoff basketball at The Garden. It’s something I don’t take for granted, especially after last year. I know that our fans are going to bring it, and bring us all kinds of energy. I can’t wait.
Over the course of this season, we have demonstrated that we can beat any team in the league. When we play the right way—when we move the ball and play well defensively—we’re really tough to beat. We’ve also demonstrated that we’re a team that can get beaten by anybody when we don’t execute game plans on both ends of the court, and we don’t trust one another. It could be a quick out for us in the playoffs if we’re playing like that.
What’s strange is that I honestly don’t feel like there’s that much separation between that team that’s executing and that team that’s not. In the NBA things can happen so fast, and everything snowballs. You’re talking about, on the defensive end, four guys doing their job and just one guy being out of place, and that can be a bucket for the other team. It’s somebody not knowing a play, or breaking a play, not executing what we want to on offense and taking a quick shot. It doesn’t have to be a huge difference. It’s those little things. Those winning plays.
When all five guys on the court are playing disciplined and playing together, especially with the talent that we have on our team, we’re a team that can win any game against anybody.
I’m definitely optimistic about our chances, and I feel like we have what it takes. It’s going to take a lot of discipline, a lot of commitment on our end. It’s hard to win in the NBA and it’s hard to have that discipline and that commitment and that level of execution every single time. The guys on the other side are trying to win, too.
It’s just something that we have to do if we want to win.
ATTACKING THE BASKET
Personally, I feel like I’m peaking at the right time.
It’s been a slow build up process throughout the year, and I’ve been working through a lot of continual exercises that are still going on. There’s this perception that when a player comes back from an injury, the rehab and the recovery is over. But that’s not how it works. I’m still doing rehab every day. I’m still trying to do stuff to strengthen my ankle and continue to get my proprioception back.
I certainly feel a lot more confident now than I did in September/October or even January/February.
Coming back—especially as late as I did in training camp after the second surgery pushed back our timeline—and basically introducing a brand new player to a team that was already successful was going to cause a little bit of a wrinkle into what we were trying to do. I’ve been trying to find my own game and find where I fit into the team. Meanwhile, other players were trying to learn my style and how I play. We were all trying to learn each other’s strengths and how we could utilize each other throughout the year to have that team success. That’s a lot easier said than done, and it certainly had something to do with our ups and downs for sure.
Month by month, though, it’s gotten better.
I had a nice string of games at the end of the season where I felt really good about my game. From an outside perspective, I’m sure it seems like the peak came in the game against Indiana where I went 9-for-9. While that’s a great accomplishment, for me it goes back a couple days before that, to the game against Miami.
That game was a much better barometer for where I am and how far I’ve come. The main reason I say that is because of how many times I was able to get to the line in that game. That’s always been a huge part of my game, but at the beginning of the year, I wasn’t doing that as much. Part of it was my ankle and not trusting it, and part of it was just having a year off from basketball and getting out of the mindset of attacking and getting to the rim.
Getting to the line kind of opens up the rest of my game for me and gets me in a rhythm. It also allows me to get a breather and just kind of relax there at the free throw line, get some easy points and then go from there. So to get to the line several times and shoot, I think, 13 free throws in that game, it gave me a lot of confidence that I can definitely still get points that way. I just have to continue to have an attacking mindset.
As for the postseason, what I expect from myself is to continue to make winning plays for our team. And I think that can mean a lot of different things. Throughout this year, I’ve tried to avoid the stat sheets, good and bad. I’m not focused on having high numbers, because with how our team is set up, it’s not always going to be the case that I get those numbers.
But I can certainly always make winning plays. That’s being in the right spot defensively, making the right plays on the offensive end, even if it’s the hockey assist or creating the right spacing so somebody else can attack and get to the rim without my defender being able to come help. Those things don’t necessarily always show up, but they help your team win and that’s what I expect of myself. I’m going to stay aggressive, get in the lane and get to the rim, make plays happen and try to get to the line, but ultimately, it’s about making the winning plays.
Obviously, Kyrie is going to be a huge part of our success. We’re going to lean on him a lot in the postseason. He’s so talented individually and can take advantage of any matchup that he’s given.
Sometimes, even to this day, I’m just in awe when I’m watching him and some of the things he’s able to do. Years ago I wrote a blog about the Finals and called Kyrie “the best guard I’ve ever seen at finishing through contact from big men.” Everything I’ve seen firsthand this season backs that up.
When you’re on the court or even on the bench watching, you kind of have to hold your breath every time he makes a play. He’s got an unreal ability to finish plays that I think most guys would not be able to finish.
Circumstances have dictated that most of the year, I haven’t played as much with Kyrie as maybe I envisioned when I joined him here in Boston, because of some shifts in what we have been trying to do as a team. But it’s been good to be able to play with him when I do get the opportunity.
The cool part about Kyrie is that there’s a lot to learn from him. There are a number of players in the NBA who can do things that most people can’t do because they’re gifted with athleticism or length or height. Kyrie’s a gifted athlete. He’s got an unbelievable first step and his ability to change speeds is something that not everybody has. But his greatness comes from the incredible work he’s put into his craft, and the skillset that’s come from that. It’s given him timing that’s remarkable. The cadence that he plays with is second to none. Almost everything he does is a skill, things that he has learned and perfected—and those are all things you can learn from if you’re lucky enough to have him as a teammate.
PREPARED FOR PACERS
I’m really looking forward to this first-round matchup with Indiana.
Our bigs are going to be important for us, especially defensively, in this first series. The Pacers play big a lot and they’ve got some big guys who can do a lot of damage. Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner and Thad Young are all guys who are bruisers and who can really exploit mismatches, too. When you switch on them, they do a good job attacking in the post.
We got to play the Pacers twice over the last two weeks of the season, so we got a first-hand look at exactly how they like to play. Those games and some other matchups we had at the end of the season allowed us to go back to starting double big. It was good that we kind of got that practice. I think guys have gotten comfortable in their roles with that lineup now, being able to make plays and play through the seams and take advantage of their own mismatches.
Al Horford has kind of been our rock all year, and we’re definitely going to need him to be that in the postseason. He’s a huge part of what we do on the defensive end. When he’s blocking shots, or making shots difficult for guys, grabbing the rebound and starting the break, that’s when he’s at his best. We’re definitely going to count on him to exploit some mismatches in the halfcourt offense as well. He’s a guy who can take advantage when teams switch, with his postgame as well as his ability to stretch the floor.
The Pacers are definitely going to add wrinkles into what they want to do, as will we. But you kind of get a chance to know who they are at their core, what they like to do and different players’ tendencies. Both of those games were also playoff-type atmospheres because we were fighting for home court advantage.
It was good experience. That said, it’s not something where, because we won those two, we can take it even a little bit lightly. I think they’re going to play a lot better than they did in those games, especially the one when we beat them at home.
We have to expect their best. It’s going to take everything we have to make sure we come out on top.