Asked if the Celtics could "burn out" after a such a hot start, Rivers replied, "We're just playing basketball. We're winning, but we're playing normal minutes. So, the question should be, if we played the same amount of minutes and lost, would we be burning out? No. So, if we're going to play the minutes, I think we should try to win the game, and that's what we're doing."
I said from the outset that I didn't expect the Boston Celtics to start the season the way they did last season. Bob Ryan echoed these sentiments, saying the Green wouldn't start 29-3, wouldn't go 25-5 against the West, and wouldn't sweep Texas.
There were three reasons to believe this.
1) The Celtics had something to prove last year, and they wanted to make a statement by proving it with an exclamation point. They won the championship. So what's left to prove this year, at least until the playoffs start?
2) The Celtics were tired, too tired to play great basketball, and maybe too tired to care. The players had a short offseason, and just weren't in the mood to run it up the flag pole again. Rajon Rondo pretty much conceded this point earlier in the season.
3) Great starts don't necessarily get you anywhere. Look at Dallas a couple of years ago, Portland in 1977-78.
4) Playing at a high level takes more out of you than playing like you don't care.
This last point really gets to the nub of it all, and it is this point that Doc Rivers directly challenges in the above quote. If you're gonna play 28-36 minutes (OT games to one side), does playing at a high level take no more out of you than phoning it in?
I'm gonna disagree with Doc on this one.
After the Celtics started 29-3 last year, they proceeded to lose three of four. After the All-Star break they lost three straight. Why? They weren't bringin' it. It's called a letdown. So while the Celtics may "just be playing basketball" on their current 12-game streak, they are also playing intense, statement-making basketball, the kind that is played by a team in three-team race for the best record in basketball.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the Celtics are just so good they show up and play at this level without much effort. Or maybe they are so well-conditioned that playing at full-throttle really doesn't make a difference. But I say it does, mentally for starters and physically as well.