As a Boston Celtics fan, I watched their game against the Philadelphia 76ers with much enthusiasm. It seemed like the Celtics had a little too much fun at London the previous night and started the game slow, gradually letting up a lead as much as 22 points in the 2nd quarter. However, with some explosive scoring in the 3rd, they took the 76ers by storm and shut up Embiid and his programmed post-game trash talk.
I don’t know how other Celtics fans felt when we fell down by 22 points, but I wasn’t worried the least bit. Granted, the 76ers tendency to not hold on to leads did help, but it was knowing that Boston has a quiet grind that takes teams by surprise that really helped me not worry. Sure, the Celtics were down quite a bit, but it was only because their shots were not falling. Boston was still executing like they always were, and I could sure tell from the eye-test that their grind was present despite having rested for a good 3 days.
So what is this Celtics quiet grind that I’m talking about? I’m talking about their great concentration and sticking to their game-plan even when things are not going their way in a game. I’m talking about not caring about all the narratives out there that they will fall to the Cavs in the Easter Conference Finals and just working on their craft. I’m talking about not being perturbed by trailing by 22 points to a borderline playoffs team and making that comeback.
I don’t want to deify the Celtics, but this quiet grind is a pretty rare team quality that you don’t see in many teams. However, with the Celtics if you look very closely and try to eye-test not just their game but their attitude, you can see it there when Tatum checks Brown back into the game when they’re still down and Tatum looks at Brown and Brown just nods, as if saying “I’ll take it from here, don’t worry.” You can see it when Kyrie goes to the bench looking down because he missed a lot of shots he normally makes and Brad Stevens just pats him and looks on, as if saying “Don’t worry, your teammates got you out there.” You can see it when Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart communicate on defense, and the very next possession Rozier gets a deflection and steal.
It really helps with the type of leadership that Kyrie Irving is practicing with the Celtics. I would say that although Kyrie Irving is “the man” on the Celtics, he is not the bona fide leader in which every thing runs through him. This doesn’t make him anything less than a good leader though. Precisely, this bona fide leader all-encompassing leader figure -Lebron James is what Irving tried to avoid by coming to the Celtics. He is the number 1 option to go to when the Celtics need to make an important shot, but he is not the person who runs the entire show for the Celtics. I think this is really healthy for the Celtics because everyone feels important on the Celtics and everyone grinds with Irving. Otherwise the Celtics would just be about Kyrie Irving’s grind and proving to the world he is a leader. This type of unassuming of all success and failure leadership also takes a lot of mental load off of Irving, leaving him more mental room to grind for the team.
You have other team members looking after Kyrie Irving. When Kyrie lobbed that pass to Gordon Hayward that resulted in his season-ending injury, you could easily see that Kyrie was shaken up hard. As the lob was in the air I couldn’t help but say to myself “damn, this pass looks very dangerous!” so I can’t imagine how Irving felt about that pass. However, Al Horford came and took Irving under his wing, giving him an extensive talk about to not take it upon himself for Hayward’s injury. That moment defined Irving’s dynamic with the rest of the team. He is the leader who is the greatest factor in helping Boston succeed. However, at the same time, he can lean on his teammates who will support and protect him on this new journey of being the team leader. That’s what Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown did last year for Isaiah Thomas, and that’s what they are doing this year for Irving. Together, they grind.
I think such a quiet grind characteristic that the Celtics have right now really takes teams by surprise, because they’re never amplifying what they don’t have yet. They’re not gonna go out and say “we’re gonna get this lead back and send this team back to their non-playoff bracket”. They’re just gonna go out and get them a stop or a basket play-by-play and see where to go from there. With the exception of Marcus Smart probably, none of the Celtics are loud players, but make no mistake, they are grinding. I write this article to let fans from other teams (especially Cavs fans) aware. Let the Celtics not take you by surprise soon!