During the five-game losing streak leading up to the All-Star break, a break that saw the Celtics two games under .500, you'd be hard-pressed to find a single positive thing said or written about this team.
Heck, they didn't deserve one.
But nonetheless, here we are, April 19, 2012, and the Celtics -- now five years in a row -- are your Atlantic Division Champions.
No, it's not the goal, and won't mean much one way or the other, but there's something to be said of a team like this one to fight the way they did when nobody would have been too surprised if they rolled over and died. If they went 2-6 on the West Coast trip. If they lost twice to the Heat, and again to the Pacers, etc., etc.
Back then, we probably thought we'd be talking about ping pong balls at this time. Boy were we wrong.
"Never count us out," Kevin Garnett said when asked what it meant -- after everything -- to win the division. "You guys (the media) called us old; over. I read some of your pathetic articles and some of your lousy analysis (looks around the room). It's opinion. Obviously you don't know what drives us. We thank y'all for those articles, we appreciate it, because it lit a fire under us."
Garnett goes on.
"One of the hardest things I've always said in this league is to create chemistry," he said. "I knew at some point we all as a unit would get a rhythm and ride that rhythm out. I think that's what you've seen since the All-Star break. Come back refreshed, focused. Like I've said, we haven't had a lot of practice time to implement our system, our schemes, but we do have a core here. What you've seen up until this point to come to a point to win the division is not only confidence but believing in that system and believing in that rhythm, and riding that rhythm out.
"Like I've always said since I've been here -- you can rewind the tapes right now, different outfit, no scarf, same frames -- that in order to build chemistry, it's a process, and you just don't do that in one or two days. We're a very confident team, I've always said that ... to be able to win your division is a huge thing. All those things combined is what you got today."
Sure, winning the Division is nice, but it's never been anything to write home about. But this season, like Garnett so distinctly noted, you'd be crazy not to acknowledge it and know it means more. Rivers agrees.
"Yeah, it does [mean more]." Doc Rivers said. "I mean, it's funny, we were kidding in the locker room because I really - I usually, honestly, don't say much about it - I don't know if I've ever congratulated the team for winning one. But I did tell them, I said, ‘Guys, I know it's not a big deal to us - and it isn't because we're not in this to win divisions - but, we were two games under .500 at All-Star break and the fact that you did it and did it this early I think is very impressive.' And it was."
And the Celtics won in a similar fashion that they have been since that All Star break. They dig deep, work for a lead, and hold off the opposition's comeback attempt. Paul Pierce sealed it with a swish in the closing seconds Wednesday night.
"I was able to take care of business, wrap up our Division despite all we've been through, with injuries, with not playing well in the first half, it was a great accomplishment," Pierce said. "It was one of our goals coming into the second half of the season. It was a good win tonight, it was good to get the fourth seed. The most important thing for us right now is for us to get healthy."
Health is certainly the biggest issue, as Rajon Rondo (back), Ray Allen (ankle), and Mickael Pietrus (knee) all missed the game with injuries and wouldn't have played if it was a playoff game, according to Rivers. But to win without them also says something. They've overcome a lot this season, and to be where they are is cause for a celebr- pat on the back.
"I'm not about to go pop some champagne bottles or anything like that," Pierce said. "I know they do in baseball. I mean is a good accomplishment. The guys should recognize were we came from to what we are today. It's a good accomplishment I guess.
"But all we care about around here is a championship banner. I guess it's just a step towards the journey we are trying to go towards."
Where that journey ends up remains to be seen. But it's been one hell of a ride.