The ironic thing is that when finally, at long last, this hideous Celtic losing streak came to an end, it happened against a Toronto Raptors team that knows a thing or two about what the C's are going through.
The Raps are well-versed in the art of rebuilding on the fly. Matter of fact, they've done it this season. Just like Boston, this Toronto team found itself mired in a losing streak earlier this year and decided to make a change - the Raps were 6-12 on December 8, losers of five straight games and eight of their past 11, and they pulled the trigger on a well-publicized deal to ship Rudy Gay and his max contract to Sacramento.
A month later, the Raptors were on pace for a home playoff series, and Masai Ujiri looked like the smartest man alive.
Is the Celtics' decision to move Jordan Crawford today comparable? Maybe, maybe not. But the Raptors weren't at all surprised to see Boston come out strong tonight after dealing Crawford and MarShon Brooks to Golden State. In fact, Toronto coach Dwane Casey basically predicted the impressive effort pregame.
"You always get a bump," Casey said. "There's a 'trade bump' from the guys that are left behind when a teammate goes. I think you'll see a spirit from the Celtics' locker room after losing one of their players. Other guys will step up to take his spot. That's what I've always seen when trades happen in the NBA, and we expect that tonight."
Call it a bump, call it what you will, but this was the Celtics' first win in 10 games. In beating the Raps, 88-83 behind a massive 25 and 20 night from Jared Sullinger, the C's proved that at least for now, they were just fine without Crawford and his Gay-esque chucking tendencies.
Toronto was 6-12 (.333) before moving Gay and now stands at 13-6 (.684) since. The Celtics were 13-26 (.333) in the Crawford era, and they're now 1-0 since. It's a fresh start of sorts.
"After a while, when you lose so much and you're not used to losing, your competitive nature just takes over," Sullinger said. "That's what happened to me. You've just got to keep playing, and one day, it's going to crack. I thought today, we let our defense determine our offense instead of the other way around. We played great together as a team."
It was Sullinger himself who shined the brightest. He let the competitive juices flow all night, playing 39 big minutes and refusing to back down even when Jonas Valanciunas started beating the daylights out of him on the low block. By topping 20 points and 20 boards, he became the first Celtic to do so since Kevin Garnett in 2007. That'll turn some heads.
"He's obviously got that ability, but those numbers are hard to come by, no matter if you have that ability or not," coach Brad Stevens said. "I'm proud of him because we've been on a tough stretch, he got taken out of the lineup, he got put back into the lineup, and he got better. He responded the right way."
The other bright spot was the guy who started in place of the departed Crawford. Phil Pressey, the undrafted rookie point guard who just barely made this Celtic roster back in October, was electrifying in his first career start, putting up 10 assists and zero turnovers to help pace the Celtic offense.
"He was terrific," Stevens said of Pressey. "I thought he tried to pull guys together. Sometimes when you go through some of these games that we've gone through, the tension feels greater than probably it should, and you just have to have guys who make tough plays and break that tension. To his credit, I thought he pulled guys in and together. I though he was really, really, really helping to lead, which is hard for a rookie to do."
Of course, Pressey probably won't be in this role for long - the Celtics are eagerly awaiting the return of Rajon Rondo from ACL surgery, and word on the street says that's happening this weekend. Sooner or later, Pressey will be relegated to the bench. For now, though, he's enjoying his role as substitute Rondo, and he's handling his responsibilities well.
"I know if I take care of the ball, I give my team the opportunity to get more shots up," Pressey said. "That's what I pride myself on, and it helped us get the win tonight."
Added Avery Bradley: "He did a great job. As a rookie, you can be a little nervous to be going out there, but this showed that he's a professional. Our coach had confidence in him, and we did too. We knew he could go out and perform and play well, and that's what he did."
At least for one night, these are the resurgent Celtics. They've cut a couple of extraneous pieces, they've banded together and they've worked hard to earn a quality win over a playoff team.
If the Celtics are the new Raptors, they'll rally and play .700 ball for the next month. But even if not, games like this reveal a small glimmer of hope that the C's can still gut out wins. After a bleak opening to 2014, that's refreshing to see.
Jared Sullinger Gets 20 Rebounds, And Resurgent Celtics Get One Big One
The Celtics made a major shakeup today, trading guard Jordan Crawford to Golden State on game day before taking on the Toronto Raptors. Jared Sullinger and the rest of the remaining C's knew how to respond.