The Celtics are still a machine — they just need maintenance from time to time

Even the best machines need to be tinkered with to run smoothly.

The Boston Celtics are a well-oiled machine. They have been chewing up opponents all season long with efficient precision. However, all machines (no matter how well-oiled) need to be tinkered with and maintained to keep running smoothly. Sometimes, you hear a noise that causes you alarm. Sometimes the check engine light comes on. Think of those two losses this week as a squeaky brake pad and a low-air pressure light (appropriate in Denver).

This is not my attempt to spin a “well actually, losses are good” narrative. I’d rather learn lessons during wins. However, the losses do provide object lessons for coaches to lean into and harp on. If nothing else, there’s always a message of “see, this is what happens when you fail to execute in these moments.”

The late game execution on both sides of the ball is probably the biggest worry spot from those losses. Despite 49 wins stacked up against the 14 losses, there’s going to be a nagging sense of “see, they can’t execute in the clutch” that no avalanche of stats proving otherwise is going to alter.

Like it or not, the legacy of this team (not to mention Tatum, Brown, and Mazzulla to name a few) will boil down to their performance in the playoffs. Between now and then, all they can do is develop muscle memory, experiment with different looks, and execute repeatable processes. Again and again and again. Adjust a bolt here. Add some brake fluid there. Keep things running smoothly.

As much as I love extending imperfect analogies, I have to point out that these guys are, in fact, only human. Going a whole month without losing tends to give even the best teams an air of overconfidence. A small dose of humble pie served up by the defending champions is a good reminder of how hard it is to win one of those banners. Not that they need much more motivation and focus, but a reminder every once in a while can be helpful.

Finally, it pays to have bumps in the proverbial road because you know there are going to be potholes and obstacles in the path once the postseason starts. No team knows this better than the Celtics. So, when the Heat or some other team catches fire and hits 67% of their threes for a few games in a row, the Celtics will have a few counters and options to turn to.

Looking under the hood and performing maintenance checks is essential to keeping this machine running smoothly when we need it the most. Bouncing back against the Suns proves that the team is still moving in the right direction.

Gideon Canice

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