They played great. They were missing not only their out-for-the-season All-Star point guard, but also their emotional leader and defensive anchor, and they still gave Miami all it could handle. It’s an effort to be proud of.
And none of that matters.
In thinking about this season’s Celtics team, the word that shines through for me is maddening. This team … wow. This team had a lot of growing pains to go through during the first part of the season, sure; I think we all realized that would be the case—lots of new guys, plus Avery Bradley was out for a while and then had to be reincorporated. I, and you, expected lots of hiccups, lots of road bumps and detours and ugly performances while guys were learning defensive rotations and offensive sets.
Yet we knew, you and I, what this team was capable of: championship-level play, or close to it. And even while these guys were struggling, we saw flashes of that promise: a win over OKC, a win over the trendy-pick Knicks in New York, even a win over Miami, a game during which we all learned that our aforementioned floor general was done for the season, and maybe for a good part of next as well. These guys—KG, Pierce, & Co.—were gritty, grinding along, and we expected them to turn the corner at any moment.
And they did, for the most part. Even with Rondo out, and then Sully, and then the Blur. Guys were settling into their roles, getting comfortable, gaining confidence, and the team went on some winning streaks.
But the streak-breakers were sometimes (read: too often) among the league’s cellar dwellers, such as New Orleans on Jan. 16 to halt a 6-game streak, or Charlotte on Feb. 11—with KG and Pierce—to end a 7-game streak.
“But it was a classic trap game,” some Boston fans said. “Cs will get ’em next time.” Or: “No problem. It was the second night of a back-to-back after that triple-OT win over Denver.” OK. Fine. I can maintain the positivity.
But then the Cs lost to Charlotte—again—this time by nearly 30 points.
“But Pierce sat out.”
Doesn’t matter. This is the Bobkitties we’re talking about. The Washington Generals of the NBA. The Cs should soundly thump them, even without Pierce. And have you noticed that there’s always some excuse for these guys from certain quarters? Always some at-the-ready defense to explain away the inevitable letdowns and the consistent inconsistency? Always some “legitimate defense” for their underperformance?
“But the Cs almost beat the Heat last night, without KG! Doesn’t that say something about this team?”
Yes, it does. It says, to me, that this team gets up only for “big games,” that this team doesn’t show up night in and night out, that this team focuses only when it feels like it. All of which is the opposite of how a championship-caliber team plays.
Yes, it’s great, and pretty impressive, that they could almost beat the champs without KG and without Rondo and without Sully, just like it was great and impressive that they almost knocked them out of last season’s playoffs without Bradley and without Green and without Wilcox and O’Neal.
Pretty interesting, though, how a team can, on one hand, overcome so much adversity, so many big hurdles, but then ultimately is brought down by such small things, by things that are so … basic … so fundamental. Things that high school kids are drilled on ad nauseum but that these professionals seem to lose sight of. It’s like a guy who has all the tools to conquer Mount Everest, and is nearly at the top, but then slips and falls because he forgot to tie his bootlaces.
Paul Pierce might’ve put it best:
“There’s always positives from every game, but you've got to look at negative things when you play against the best team in the NBA right now. It’s always going to come down to the little things, and those things really add up at the end of the game when you have a two-point loss.”
First, Paul, let me say thank you to you. Thank you for saying what I’ve been saying all season, and thank you for pointing out what many Cs fans have been ignoring all season: The little things matter. It’s not that these guys simply miss a free throw here and commit the occasional turnover there; they usually don’t lose because they botch a play at the end of a game, or because the refs make a bad call in crunch time; it’s the accumulated weight of numerous mistakes, all the straws that lead to the straw that breaks the camel’s back, it’s 9 (NINE!) missed free throws and 20 turnovers (that’s 40–60 possible points) when you have very little margin for error.
So they nearly beat the Miami Heat last night.
Big. Freakin. Deal. The reality is this: The Boston Celtics might be the biggest speed bump these Miami Heat will face this postseason, but they’re still nothing more than a speed bump. And that’s not going to change unless they get their heads in the game from tip-off to final whistle.