Technically, it's still Wednesday, and All-Star Weekend doesn't start for another, oh, 36 hours or so. But judging from the level of play in the Celtics' tilt tonight with the visiting Chicago Bulls, there were a handful of guys who already left on vacation, if not physically then at least in spirit.
In other words: Woof, this was an ugly one.
"Doc gave me the opportunity to take the night off," Kevin Garnett mused postgame. "I should have [expletive] took it."
Yeah, it was that kind of game. No one looked like they wanted to be there, but by golly, they're being paid millions to play a kids' game, so they found the fortitude to slog through 48 whole minutes.
There were turnovers, there were blown defensive assignments, there was CLANG after CLANG after CLANG on the TD Garden rims. Eventually, the Celtics scampered away with a win, 71-69 to finish an 8-1 stretch going into the break. But they weren't proud of it.
"I just thought it was one of those games," C's coach Doc Rivers said. "As we know, the last game before break is always a strange game. You got half the guys tired, you've got a group of guys that are already in the Dominican Republic, and then you have the young guys. You could see it on both sides."
The Celtics started incredibly strong, getting out to a 20-9 lead with just over three minutes to play in the first quarter. They looked untouchable. Then it all fell apart -- four points in the last three minutes of the first quarter, 11 in the entire second, then a measly 8 in the third. It was the Celtics' worst offensive stretch in years -- nay, decades.
"I've never been a part of something like that," Jason Terry laughed. "I'm from the Western Conference. We score 9 in one minute."
In a weird sort of way, this may have been the Celtics' most impressive win of all. Because despite their absolutely abysmal offense, the C's stayed in the game, and with relentless defensive pressure led by guard Avery Bradley, they eventually managed to turn things around going into the fourth.
"You win games on the defensive end, and that's what we did tonight," Bradley said. "We tried to make everything hard for their guards. I just tried to get them out of their offense, tried to speed them up. Everybody played great team defense tonight."
In the end it wasn't Bradley, but rather Terry of all people making the defensive play of the night. With the Bulls down two and needing a putback off a missed free throw to save the game, they got the ball to Marco Belinelli in the final seconds with a chance for buzzer-beating heroics. Belinelli, who beat the Celtics in the final seconds a month ago, had the chance to do it again, but this time Terry blocked his game-tying shot and the Celtics held on for the win.
"It was a situation similar to last time," Terry said. "The clock's winding down, and it just ends up in this guy's hands. But fortunately, I'd been thinking about it the last two weeks. Watched that game tonight before this game, and if it came down to that again, I told myself I was going to get the stop at all costs."
Indeed he did, and as a result, the Celtics survive. But there's no doubt that the Celtics, despite winning eight of their last nine games and positioning themselves for an upward surge in the East standings, are desperate for this upcoming All-Star break.
"It's coming at the right time," Paul Pierce said. "There's just so many things going on over the last couple weeks for us, mentally and physically. I think this is the perfect time for a break, especially with the injuries we have."
There you have it. The C's are 28-24, looking stronger than they have at any point this season, but a break will do them nothing but good.
Then again, you could argue their break already began yesterday.