Entering today's marquee matchup against the Golden State Warriors, the Boston Celtics have endured one of their toughest stretches of the season losing five of their past six games. Despite their struggles, Kevin Durant believes they will steady the ship once the post-season begins.
"They're right up there at the top," Durant said, via ESPN's Nick Friedell. "They've been losing a couple games, but they've got the top talent, some of the top talent on that team, so they'll be fine once the playoffs start."
It's been a bumpy road for Celtics coach Brad Stevens as he tries to replicate the success of last season, where the Celtics fell just one game shy of the NBA Finals. Integrating Gordon Hayward into the lineup after being sidelined for a year with a gruesome ankle injury has had its challenges, with the forward averaging just 10.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, shooting 43.2% from the field and 32.8% from three.
Even more troubling has been the stark contrast in the Celtics' fortune without their best player in Irving. In their last eight games with Irving in the lineup, the Celtics have gone 1-7 as opposed to the last six games that Irving has missed, where they've gone a perfect 6-0.
While chemistry issues have been a constant through the regular season, the Celtics have plenty of room to grow and reach their potential this season, according to Durant.
"It's just the nature of the game," Durant added. "They've got a bunch of young players, they've got a couple veterans that have been through the struggle, so they're still trying to figure each other out. It takes more than just a half a year or a whole year to figure it out.
"They're just going to keep growing, so what you see right now is probably not the finished product.
"Everybody else probably thought they were supposed to be clicking and winning 65 games," Durant added.
"Because they had the talent and they went to the Eastern Conference finals last year, Game 7, but it's a new season. There's a lot of teams that changed their rosters to play, to stack up in the East, so it's a different team. So they're still getting used to each other, getting Gordon Hayward back and Kyrie back, and another year of experience for the guys that went through the playoffs, so it's going to be throughout the season."
The Celtics currently sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference at 38-26, while the Warriors remain on top of the Western Conference with a 44-19 record.
Golden State themselves have gone 4-4 over their past eight outings, with today's matchup set to give both teams a taste of playoff intensity as we enter the stretch run of the season.
The last time these two teams met, the Warriors held off a furious Celtics comeback to win 115-111 at the TD Garden, with Durant (33 PTS, 9 REB) and Irving (32 PTS, 10 AST) going toe-to-toe.