BOSTON — The Celtics have teased becoming the team everyone expected them to be a few times this season.



There was the opening night blowout of the Philadelphia 76ers after an ominously flat preseason. There was the eight-game win streak in December that preceded three straight losses. There was the thrilling Christmas Day overtime triumph against the 76ers that led into a 1-2 road trip.



Each time this team has shown signs it might [...]

BOSTON — The Celtics have teased becoming the team everyone expected them to be a few times this season.

There was the opening night blowout of the Philadelphia 76ers after an ominously flat preseason. There was the eight-game win streak in December that preceded three straight losses. There was the thrilling Christmas Day overtime triumph against the 76ers that led into a 1-2 road trip.

Each time this team has shown signs it might be ready to live up to its potential, there has been a step back that has sent everyone to the whiteboard to figure out why the squad has somehow repeatedly delivered at less than the sum of its celebrated parts.

Riding the latest three-game win streak — and with the team mostly back to full health — the Celtics are now once again riding the wave of hope and anticipation that this time they have truly figured it out.

They will get a chance to prove it — if not once and for all, at least once with a modicum of staying power — over the next week when they host the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night, then head out on a three-game road trip, and return home for a showdown with the Toronto Raptors at TD Garden next Wednesday.

“The beginning of the year wasn’t so kind to us,” Marcus Smart said, after he was one of eight Celtics to score in double figures in Monday’s 116-95 blowout of the Brooklyn Nets. “We fixed it. We still have a lot of work to do. But it’s going in the right direction."

It’s one thing to get it together against a Minnesota Timberwolves team that would fire its coach four days later. It’s one thing to get it together against a Dallas Mavericks team sending out Dirk Nowitzki for one last hurrah in a storied arena during a game it trailed by 20 points in the final minutes. And it’s one thing to get it together against a Brooklyn Nets team missing six players on the second night of a back-to-back.

It will be another thing to get it together against two of the four teams ahead of the Celtics in the race for the top spot in the East.

“Indiana’s been playing well,” said Marcus Morris, who returned to the lineup on Monday night along with Kyrie Irving after they missed time with neck and eye injuries, respectively. “We’re going to have to match their intensity. That’s another team that’s been really surprising people. Even when (All-Star guard Victor) Oladipo was out, they were still playing well.

“They’ve been playing really well. We’re playing well. So it’s going to be a good game.”

Entering Tuesday night, the Celtics were 4 games overall (3 in the loss column) behind the Raptors for the best winning percentage in the East, while they were two games behind the third-place Pacers. The top-five teams in the East have separated themselves from the pack. That at least one of those teams will be on the road to open the first round of the playoffs makes each meeting among them that much more significant even in January.

Especially when you consider that, after the Raptors game next Wednesday, five of the final six meetings against the collection of Toronto, Indiana, Philadelphia and the Milwaukee Bucks are away from the parquet.

“It’s always something about being at home,” Smart said. “We have our crowd, and our fans, behind us. They bring energy — that extra little oomph that we need on the court — especially after that [stuff] that we’ve been playing like.

“It feels good to be back here, playing in front of them, and not hearing boos. That’s something good.”

The last time the Celtics heard those boos was during the dispiriting loss to the Bucks on Dec. 21 that led to a two-day team summit. Since then, Boston has won six of eight overall, including all five games at TD Garden.

While it has been encouraging, it will mostly be yet another taunt if the Celtics are not able to carry over that urgency and execution against their top rivals in the East over the next eight days.

“Every game now we’ve got to look at it as a big game,” Smart said. “Every game counts. We’re working for something much greater. We’ve got to continue to be great. And progress in the right way, instead of decline.”