Watching the team now, it is sometimes easy to forget how close we were a few short months ago to seeing the end of a (short) era in Boston Celtics history. But the team that flew home from Los Angeles with a biter taste in their mouths has regrouped for another run, and they look like they have a new fire.
Last night was actually the first chance I've had to watch a full game on TV this year (thank you NBA League Pass for starting to show preseason games early this year). I caught a few highlights and snippets of games, but it wasn't the same as watching the tipoff and getting to take in all the sights and sounds. It wasn't the prettiest game - in fact parts of it were dull and the team looked kinda sloggy at times. But that's preseason for you. There was enough there for me to get a taste.
For me it was like going back to my favorite restaurant after several months of not being able to. The anticipation is palpable, the setting is familiar, and that first bite is both familiar and surprising. Surprising because you forget all the little things that make the meal so good. Sure, you remember the taste in general, but it is easy to forget the delicate balance of ingredients and the way they dance together in harmony as you take that bite.
It isn't just the stats and wins (though those do help). It isn't just the names on the back of the jerseys. This team is a collection of men that we have all come to know and love. Sure, there are some fresh faces and some new weapons. But the main attraction is still the core group of stars that have been here since 2007-08. In fact, they are so familiar that I don't even have to tell you their names, but if I describe them, you'll know just who I'm talking about. In fact, that sounds like fun, so I'll give it a shot.
Where else can I start but with the one with the electric smile? He's got a charisma and easy going charm that somehow blends seamlessly with his on-court game. There he is in the triple threat position, just rocking the defender to sleep before he jabs with his front foot only to step back and drain an effortless 18 footer over the outstretched hand of the helpless defender. Then there he is taking a few measured dribbles in one direction, letting the defender over-commit to his strong hand, and with a burst of centrifugal force he has somehow spun all the way around and has the top of the key all to himself to pass or shoot to his heart's content.
Next, there's the new generation leader that just organized a class field trip to Fenway. He starts each game off with an exaggerated power dribble before darting through the lane with the ball on a string. Somehow lost amongst the legs and arms, the next thing you see is his teammate breaking to the basket with the ball and nobody (maybe not even the guy with the ball) understands how it got there.
After that there's the tall ferocious one. He of the growls and barks and menacing spastic movements on defense. All of which appears to contrast with his calm demeanor when he receives the ball at the top of the key and drains a jumper like he's taking a walk down the streets of North End.
Then of course there is the cold blooded assassin of constant movement and locked in muscle memory. Like Ice Man in Top Gun, he's ruthlessly efficient and keeps waiting for you to make a mistake, and then he strikes. Take away the shot and he's happy to pass or drive. Fight through the screen and he's happy to curl you off another pick. Slip the screen and he's more than happy to fade to the corner and catch and release. Its only a matter of time before he finds your weakness and exploits it.
Sadly the final piece of the starting five puzzle is still on the shelf until mid-season. So we'll just have to consider that dessert when it happens. The soft spoken (yet cuttingly honest when he speaks) giant will have to wait a few months before he can stand toe to toe with the best post players in the game. He won't get the stats that the stars get, but the stars never get the stats that they normally get when they play against him, and for him that's what matters.
Yes, these guys have become so familiar that we can close our eyes and picture them doing what they do best. But that doesn't mean it isn't delicious to watch them go to work once again. Bon appetit.