The Boston Celtics face elimination on Saturday but it goes well beyond that. They face the end of an era.
I still believe that they are the better team and could and even should win on Saturday. If anything, they've got a number of things going their way. They'll be playing at home on a couple days rest. They'll be playing with their backs up against the wall, which is apparently the only time they can must up the energy to play up to their ability. They are the veteran, battle tested team with perhaps the 2nd best coach in the league. So yeah, they should be able to win and advance to play the winner of the Pacers/Heat series.
But what if they don't? What if they end up losing to the 8th seed in the 2nd round of the playoffs. What makes this team's fate any better than the Lakers inglorious exit? You almost have to revisit the decision to not break up the team at the trade deadline. Was a half a season and a first round win really worth it?
If they lose, Danny Ainge has to take a long hard look at his roster and wonder if it is even worth it to bring Kevin Garnett back, never mind Ray Allen. Clearly KG has some gas left in the tank, but there are times when it seems like he and Pierce are the only one's holding the tent up and you know both have expiration dates that are coming up soon.
Ironically, it was injuries to the younger guys that are really killing this team right now. Avery Bradley is just the most recent example but the list includes Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox, and even Jermaine O'Neal (remember him?). All could have helped and would have at least provided the team with fresh legs to take some of the burden off the old guys.
If Danny decides that he wants to start the rebuilding plan sooner rather than later, the dominos could start falling very fast. Garnett and Allen could find employment elsewhere or retire. Paul Pierce has hinted strongly at retirement and I think he would consider it strongly if those other two left. Then there's always the bi-annual Rajon Rondo trade rumors. Doc Rivers seems signed up for the long haul, but he could be coaching a completely revamped lineup next year.
On the other hand, I feel a bit like the boy who cried wolf on this subject. I've been warning you about the end of times for so long that I might as well have a scraggly beard and a sandwich sign draped over my shoulders. They were done in 2010, they were done in 2011, they were done at the All Star break, but they kept coming back for more because it was better than the alternative. So maybe that will happen again.
Perhaps Danny will survey the free agent and trade markets and decide that he'd rather just re-sign KG and maybe even Allen again. Maybe Danny will trade for Josh Smith using Jeff Green as a sign-and-trade (with additional chips of course) and the Big 3 will have one more crack at it. Maybe I'll be writing this same column again next year, and the year after that.
Or maybe the Celtics will just happen to win on Saturday, and then go on to throttle the Heat (who they might just match up better with than the Sixers or Pacers). Then anything can happen in the Finals. Just ask the Mavericks, another aging team that happened to come together at just the right time.
I'm not burying this team just yet. Like I said at the top, I still believe in them. I just realize that there's a chance they could lose and I don't want it to end this way.