I was asked recently if I think that this team likes each other as much as they did two years ago and if I like them as much. I don't travel with the team and I'm no armchair psychologist, but I think they do (and I do), but in a very different way. The best analogy I could come up with was the process of falling in love and being married.
Two years ago, it was love at first sight. The Big 3 of Pierce, Allen, and Garnett found in each other what they've been searching their whole careers for. Soul mates who wanted the same thing and were willing to sacrifice to get it. It was an emotional high and nothing could bring them down. They rode that honeymoon period right on through the season and into the playoffs. Their, they found their first sobering moments and major obstacles. Instead of getting discouraged, they put their heads together and fought through the trials and came out on top. Now, not only did they have the exuberance of the early days of their marriage, they also made it through some tough times and achieved their wildest dreams because of their dedication to each other. In short, their "marriage" was made even stronger because of it and everyone benefited.
A similar feeling can be associated with the fans. We bought in early and we flat out fell head over heels in love with this team and were rewarded with an NBA title.
However, the past year and a half could be defined as the post-honeymoon period. As the years go by, you discover things about your mate that you either didn't realize before or were too love-blind to see. Little foibles become grating pet peeves. Minor annoyances become glaring weaknesses. And a funny thing happens along the way. Being married typically makes you painfully aware of your own shortcomings because you see them reflected in the way your spouse reacts to you. This doesn't mean that you love each other any less. Just the opposite.
What develops is a more mature love. A more unconditional love. When you can look at someone and really know them top to bottom, knowing everything imperfect about them and still truly love them without hesitation, that's mature love. When you've been through many, many tough times together, you know that you can get through the next one together and you find a deeper respect for each other because of it.
I think this is what has developed on the Celtics. They make no pretense of being perfect and they are fully aware of each other's faults. (And as fans, we see them and get frustrated by them to no end.) But a more mature love and respect is there. They have more and more respect for each other even as more and more cracks are showing up in the armor.
I'm not sure if all this love and respect will ultimately lead to another title. But when I hear people question the chemistry on the team, I tend to disagree (in as much as I can from afar). What I perceive is a team that is becoming a bit like and old married couple. The honeymoon is long gone, but so are many of the hardest times. They've been through it all together, so they can pretty much have what were previously 30 minute arguments by exchanging a few knowing looks and moving on with their day.
They've had their share of rough spots in the last year and a half, but there have been good times too. They've overcome a lot and they have a long road yet ahead of them. But I don't get the sense that they have given up on each other in the least.
Here's hoping that this more mature love and respect is enough to pull them together at least one more time. They need to find that spark and rekindle the flame for the uphill climb ahead of them. Just like we fans have to put aside the disappointments and gear up for the playoffs. Because there's no turning back. This one is till death do us part and we're all in. The team wants this and we want this with all our hearts. Though if it doesn't happen, we'll pick ourselves up and still love each other just as much.