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The Current Celtics Dilemma, In The Key Of Soprano

The year, was 2006. Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield was on everyone's radio, and South Park was still peaking as a show. As I watched Sunday's absolute shaming at the hands of the Miami Heat, I thought back to this fateful year, to one period-defining show that was on its last legs.

The Sopranos was a great show, with great characters, that was not as good as The Wire, that for a lot of people will define the early 2000's as far as premium TV goes. The show was so great in particular, because of the pure raging emotional force that was its lead character, Anthony 'Tony' Soprano.

Now Tony Soprano was a complicated man. He wasn't the smartest egg in the basket, but he had a fair modicum of cunning, and above all he valued violence, and dominance.

In Tony Soprano's heart, he was always a bully. By the sheer nature of his occupation as acting boss of the Soprano crime family, he looks for weakness in others, and figures out how to expose them. Whether it is with a bat, or with words, Tony Soprano dealt primarily in fear, and made his money on intimidation, with the promise of swift 'justice' if he was challenged.

In a lot of ways, this is also how Kevin Garnett has become accustomed to playing. Aside from having a dynamite turnaround jumper and being the defacto best defensive player in the league for the last 10 years, Kevin Garnett also was a bully, a man who would actively look for weaknesses, and exploit them.When Kevin Garnett came to the Celtics back in 2007, he brought this attitude with him. He instilled it so much, that even without Garnett's versatile and plentiful talents, the Celtics still managed to drive the eventual 2009 Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic to a 7 game series. The Celtics have been the bullies of the NBA for the last four years. If anyone wants to make a moral argument against that, feel free. Personally,  I like my Celtics being bullies.

At the beginning of Season 6, Tony is gut-shot by his uncle (and former rival) Junior Soprano, while Junior is having a hallucination from his ongoing bout with Alzheimer s. Tony slipped into a coma, and this led to a couple of trite 'dream episodes' and some side tangents that I didn't really care for. Eventually Tony got out of the hospital, but he was weak. He had been gut-shot, faced mortality for the first time. 

Tony becomes a bit paranoid. While he was used to being the biggest baddest wolf in the pack, now he was injured, and he was scared others might see his weakness, and try to exploit it. He tells his psychologist "People misinterpret, they think you're weak, they see an opportunity." He tells her that people are beginning to challenge him, where they never would have before.

I think maybe he shares something with the Celtics in that regard, and I think the way he resolves it is exactly the medicine these Celtics need. Click the jump to hear the rest of the story, and how I think it applies to our boys in green.

For better or worse, these Celtics have been gut shot. There have been bad breaks all season; it started with Delonte West getting injured a mere five games after he had played his first minutes in green since being traded in 2007. It continued with Shaquille O'Neal getting re-injured, and failing to heal in a timely basis. The injuries to Marquis Daniels and Semih Erden followed, just exponentially increasing the pain. These Celtics managed to solider on through all that, and keep their composure.

But the pinnacle of all the turd sandwiches they've had to endure, and the blow that threatened to put the season to bed, was the trade of Kendrick Perkins. That was the real gut shot for these Celtics.

Now people have debated the trade before. I'm not going to do that, I'm frankly sick of it. I don't think its worth going into anymore, and I don't believe for a second that as of this moment, it is debatable that the Celtics are playing far, far worse since the trade than they were before the trade, so I'm just going to say that is the high-water mark.

Like Tony Soprano, these fargin' Jackals in the NBA think they see weakness, and see opportunity. Chris Bosh, Joakim Noah, Kobe Bryant, they've all said they're happy Kendrick Perkins isn't on the Celtics anymore, because they're not afraid of a scowling menace just decapitating them when they enter the paint.

You're starting to see signs (aside from blowout losses to contenders). In the Bulls game, Glen Davis hit the floor after a struggle with Kurt Thomas, then Kurt Thomas stands over Glen Davis like he's just bought him for two packs of cigarettes, just taunting him. In the past, this would not have gone on. I'm not saying Perkins would've put a quick end to this (yes I am.), but someone would have. Boozer is allowed to scream and grunt and get rebound after rebound and bark with impunity. Dwyane Wade shoves Paul Pierce, and everyone just kind of goes on their way. Heck, even Chris Bosh looked kind of 'tough' against the Celtics on Sunday.

It is understandable. Injuries, introduction of new personnel, the departure of dear friends who were clearly underratedbydannyaingealright! I'll stop., these are things that together will shake a team to its core. It could make the team (and the coach apparently) question their identity, and wonder 'if they still have it'.

Well this is the predicament Tony Soprano found himself in. When he informed his psychologist about his predicament, she casually said "Act as if". Tony was confused, so she elaborated: "Act as if you're not feeling vulnerable, as if you were the same old Anthony." Tony nods, and says thanks for the advice.

Then the next time he's at his hangout, and the boys are all around, Tony takes a good long look at his bodyguard, Perry Anunziata. Perry is a former body builder Tony calls 'Muscles Marinara'. He's relatively new to the group, so its not like guys really have an opinion about him yet. He's young though, and strong, and he's Tony's bodyguard, so it is assumed that he's one of the tougher guys out there.

Tony proceeds to beat the living crap out of Perry Anunziata, leaving him in a bloody heap on the floor. Tony walks to the bathroom, and looks up at his bloody but victorious face, and smiles.

The Celtics need to act 'as if'.

The New York Knicks were everyone's darlings even before the Melo trade. Amar'e Stoudemire was even getting some MVP chatter earlier in the season. Then, New York went on ahead and traded the kitchen sink for Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, and then suddenly New York was a real 'team' (if you ignore all those losses). They're young (mostly), they're new, they're not really established yet, but between Carmelo and Amar'e, they have arguably the two most potent offensive players in the NBA. Surely not a team to be underestimated.

The Celtics to do something to show everyone that they're 'the same old Boston Celtics'. Forget about tomorrow night, that won't mean much. Its about the playoffs, and it has to be strong, intimidating, and angry.

While really the Philadelphia 76ers are the easier playoff matchup, and the Heat/Knicks was probably the only chance for a first round upset in the Eastern playoffs, that needs to go out the window (especially since last night's games locked up the seeds). We need the Celtics to face the Knicks, and we need the Celtics to act like they still know what made them the most feared team in the NBA. Would Tony have gotten his groove back if he'd fought Christopher, or Pauly? No! Tony looked around the room, and chose the toughest looking dude there, to prove something.

The Celtics need to prove something, if only to themselves. They need to be tough, physical bullies that will make Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony wonder 'why everyone is so serious about everything, and how come Kevin Garnett is so mean?'

The Celtics may not be able to 'flip a switch', but that doesn't mean they can't pretend they can, and show the League there is still something to be feared. They aren't going to suddenly get faster, they aren't suddenly going to be able to jump higher, but they can be tougher. They need to 'act as if' they are.

To get an idea of what I'm talking about, watch this. (NOT SAFE FOR WORK, lots of swearing/violence)

To see the entire exchange from Season Six, Episode Five of the Sopranos, click here. (NOT SAFE FOR WORK/lots of swearing/violence)

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