BOSTON (CBS) -- The Celtics remain one of the hottest teams in the NBA, having just dispatched another one of the league's hottest team. Still, they aren't feeling the love.
Boston's 116-93 win over the Blazers (a team that had won nine of their last 10) Wednesday night was their 12 straight win at home. They've won four straight overall and 18 of their last 24, and at 37-25 are sitting pretty as the three-seed in the Eastern Conference. Thanks to Wednesday night's win, they own a two-game lead over the Miami Heat for one of those coveted spot (while sitting 4.5 back of the Toronto Raptors for No. 2) that will let them avoid a playoff date with the Cavaliers until the Eastern Conference Finals.
Brad Stevens just took home Eastern Conference Coach of the Month after Boston was an Eastern Conference-best 9-3 in February. Isaiah Thomas, who poured in 30 points Wednesday night, is flying high after earning his first All-Star nod. The Celtics own one of the league's best defenses, ranking third with a 99.8 rating, and their offense has caught up over the last month, averaging 111.2 since the start of February.
But they're borrowing a phrase from Rodney Dangerfield when it comes to feeling respect. And all that's doing is giving them more motivation every time they take the floor.
"Teams, players, the NBA -- they still don't respect us. And we know that," Thomas said after Wednesday's win. "We go into every game with a chip on our shoulder knowing that we have to earn the respect, and we have to earn what we get, and take what's ours. We feel like every game we've got a chance to win if we play the right brand of basketball."
Thomas has had no shortage of motivation this season. First he was adamant about making the All-Star squad, and now he's made it clear that he wants to be the best little man to ever play the game. And last week, a pair of Celtics analysts professed the 5-foot-9 guard is a good complimentary player but not the kind of player to build a championship team around.
More fuel for Thomas and the Celtics.
"I guess we've got no superstar," Thomas said with a smile Wednesday night. "No foundation player, right?"
That motivation doesn't end at Thomas though.
"I think most of us have been doing that our whole lives, you know?" Marcus Smart replied when asked about the proverbial chip. "It's nothing new to us. We understand we're a young team and we have a lot to learn. But at the same time, we're all competitors and we love to win, so we want to find a way to go out there and compete every night."
The motivation was flowing Wednesday as the C's went against two of the best guards in the league in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Boston's defense smothered the duo throughout the contest, holding the pair to 37 points. Lillard, who had scored 30 points in eight of his last nine games, was frustrated by the Celtics' relentless defense, and finished with 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting.
The Celtics' defense is always hungry for those kinds of matchups, eager to show the rest of the world what they can do against the best of the best.
"It just happened to be today against two of the best guards in the NBA as a tandem. I keep saying it, but as a group, we did a great job of just containing them and making them work. And also on the offensive end, we made them play defense. That's something we wanted to do going into the day: Make them defend as well and don't let them off the hook."
Teams are taking notice of Boston's success, as it's pretty hard to ignore at this point. But not many are taking the Celtics as a serious contender in the Eastern Conference, and the team has consistently turned that chip on their shoulder into confidence and swagger throughout the season. They'll continue to sing that "us against the world" mentality as they try to prove their doubters wrong.
"We'll constantly keep flying under the radar," said Jared Sullinger.
Sooner or later, those teams, players and the NBA as a whole will have to take notice.
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