The 2009-2010 "Reloaded" edition of the Boston Celtics have been limping and by their own admission, snoozing through the regular season. They don't seem to be inspired nor do they inspire the confidence that the 2007-2008 Ubuntu-driven championship team imparted in their fanbase.
Their recond currently stands at 37-21 (that is a .638 winning percentage) with 24 games left to play. If they are even able to play .500 ball the reast of the way, they will wind down the season at 49-33. That would, of course, be 17 wins less than they had during the last championship season and 13 less wins than last season.
Would finishing with a 49-33 record be the end of the world for this year's team? History tells us that it doesn't have to be.
The last Celtics team team that entered the playoffs with 49 wins was the 2001-2002 Celtics. These guys were the darlings of Boston that brought playoff basketball back to the city and to the then Fleet Center for the first time. This was Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce's team. There were some great role players on the roster like Kenny Anderson, Eric Williams, Rodney Rogers, Tony Delk, Walter McCarty and Tony Battie. Let's be clear though, this team belonged to it's two stars.
Welcome to the Jungle roared through speakers all over Massachusetts as these overachievers stormed all the way to an epic showdown with the New Jersey Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals. This version of the Celtics clearly wasn't of championship caliber but they certainly fought like hell. If this season's Celtics played with that kind of fire in their bellies, then they probably wouldn't meet the same fate as the 2001-2002 Celtics.
While the 2001-2002 Celtics didn't make the finals, finishing the season with 49 wins and the third seed in the East doesn't have to be a death sentence. There is still hope for this year's team and history will back that up.
The first ever Boston Celtics team to win an NBA Championship was the 1956-1957 Boston Celtics and they entered the playoffs with a 44-28 record and .611 win percentage (They only played 72 games back then). This team famously featured Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Tommy Heinsohn, Frank Ramsey, Jungle Jim Loscutoff and Bill Russell. The 44 wins may reflect the fact that Russell only played in 48 games that season because he reported to the Celtics late into the regular season.
The 1956-1957 team probably isn't a good comp for this season's squad because they were a young team (Heinsohn and Russ were both rookies.) that hit their stride entering the playoffs. All of their major contributors were at the top of their game and Red was a coaching maestro.
A team that parallels the current squad in many facets is the 1968-1969 championship squad. This was the last edition of the Bill Russell era dynasty. They finished the regular season with a 48-34 record and were limping through the regular season. This was a team that everyone in the NBA thought was vulnerable and past their prime. Maybe they were but they had experience and heart. The Celtics battled their way to the NBA finals and the stage was set for another showdown with the Lakers.
Something was different this time though. This time around the Lakers were so confident that they were going to knock the Celtics, who had tormented them so much over the years, off that they planned a huge celebration for the conclusion of Game 7. Tommy always references how L.A. had balloons strapped up in the raftersand were poised to drop them as soon as the Lakers finished off the Celtics. The great irony was that the Celtics would those balloons as a sign of disrespect. This fueled the veteran team and motivated them to defeat their rival.
What the rest of the NBA and the Lakers didn't know was that this Celtics team was like a wounded animal, backed into the corner. They knew that this was their last hurrah. Player coach Bill Russell and Sam Jones each were poised to retire at the conclusion of the NBA Finals and were considered a step slower at this point in their career. Sound familiar? Despite being an extremely long in the tooth veteran team, these Celtics came together and percevered all the way to a championship.
Something doesn't feel quite right about comparing today's Celtics to the last great team of the original Celtics' dynasty. However, the point still remains. These Celtics are not dead in the water. They may not be the world beaters that they were when they were crowned champs in 2008 but they are also not as terrible as last weekend's loss to the hapless Nets would leave you to believe. This team can still make an impact in the playoff and potentially win a championship.
One of the most important characteristics of a champion is the experience of knowing how to win a championship. This team knows how to win and teams like Cleveland and Orlando have not figured that out yet. Don't count these guys out.