Immersed as we are in our comfortable little cocoon of Boston sports, we sometimes forget to look at what lies beyond our fair city. We get so wrapped up in Tommy Kelly's knee, Xander Bogaerts' shortstop defense and other minutiae that it slips our mind: Yes, there are other athletes playing for other teams beyond Boston, and they're dealing with their own trials and tribulations.
We obsess over the Celtics' rebuilding effort, and we wonder whether this organization will ever recover from letting Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers slip away. We discount the fact that yes, there are other teams fighting through a similar predicament, as the challenge of reconstructing a gutted roster is not unique to the C's by any means.
At times like these, it's nice to have a visit from a team like the Milwaukee Bucks to wake us up.
The Bucks, who visited the TD Garden tonight for the Celtics' home opener, are a team that on paper, appears to be not at all unlike Boston. Each squad started an exciting young center (Vitor Faverani; Larry Sanders), a serviceable veteran forward (Brandon Bass; Ersan Ilyasova), an overpaid aging wing guy (Gerald Wallace, Caron Butler), a "will he ever pan out or won't he" former lottery pick (Jeff Green, O.J. Mayo) and a solid young off-ball guard forced to play the point due to injuries (Avery Bradley, Gary Neal).
The Celtics' ragtag group of misfits looked in the mirror and saw another ragtag group of misfits, and you knew it wouldn't be pretty. You could kind of guess from the jump that in the end, neither one of these teams would be winning tonight's game, but one of them would lose it.
But to lose it like this?
The Celtics absolutely imploded in the fourth quarter, carrying a double-digit lead until the final nine minutes and then hurling it down the drain. In a game that they'd previously led by scores of 16-4 and 80-60, they collapsed into a heap of ugly forced jump shots, blown defensive assignments and a general lack of awareness on both ends of the floor. All the solid fundamental play that had put them in such a commanding position early, abandoned them late.
"I really don't even understand it," a flabbergasted Wallace said postgame. "I'm trying figure out what's more important, winning or padding your stats. This was a game that were supposed to win easily, without the starters even playing in the fourth quarter. Instead we got selfish as a team - we didn't move the ball, we let the ball stick, we stopped pushing the ball. Then their second unit came in and manhandled us and did whatever they wanted to do."
Every NBA team needs a veteran leader with the courage to speak the truth. And with the aforementioned Mr. Garnett nowhere to be seen - he was busy beating the Heat on national television, incidentally - Wallace had to step up and be that guy. He spoke about the Celtics' troubles with a straight-shooting attitude that can only come from a decade-plus of NBA experience. Having been through plenty of winning and plenty of losing in his time, he just doesn't care anymore. He speaks with no filter.
"Once things start heading downhill, they're headed downhill, you know what I'm saying?" Wallace said. "We've got to understand that as a team and get on the right path. If we're headed uphill, even if we have bumps in the road, at least we're headed in the right direction. But if you start down, it's a long way down."
Wallace wasn't alone. All over the Celtics' locker room, guys were voicing their displeasure with this loss. Jared Sullinger said it was time to go "back to the drawing board." Green said his frustration level was "on a scale of 1 to 10, a 15." Courtney Lee declared that "everyone should be mad about this one."
You can make apologies for this Celtics team if you want. You can say that this roster is too young, too inexperienced, too unfamiliar with each other to gut out wins like this one. But past a certain point, that won't fly anymore.
"How long is that going to be our excuse?" Lee asked. "We had training camp, we had preseason, and now we've got a couple games under our belt. That excuse is running thin. We've got to nip that in the bud."
Perhaps the guy struggling with this the most is the guy in charge. Brad Stevens, fresh out of a mid-major NCAA program where he was used to being the upstart success story, probably doesn't know much about coping with losing. He coached for six years at Butler and lost 49 games - yes, total. This year, the Vegas over/under says he'll lose 54.5.
When asked how to deal with a loss like this one, the coach was admittedly unsure.
"I'm still processing that," Stevens conceded. "I want losing to hurt, first and foremost. Losing should hurt. But I don't want it to be something that lingers - I think you lose, you learn from it and you move on."
If only this team knew how.
Every organization deals with transitional periods sometimes, whether they're toiling away in Milwaukee or playing in a major market with 17 banners hanging over them. But in the latter case, it's a bit more jarring. We're spoiled brats in Boston - in fact, we've got a parade to attend tomorrow morning, courtesy of our third World Series win in a decade. And you want us to sit through a rebuild?
I'm not sure if any of us know what we're in for.