Kyrie Irving glides up the court. His defender jumps in front of him - nervous tension in his step - trying to cut off the angle toward the basket. Irving slows down for a beat, rocks right, rocks left, then explodes back to the right with the defender on his hip, a half step too slow to keep up.
Sometimes you have to take a step back and appreciate your blessings. Basketball is a passion for most of the people reading this article. We spend a lot of time watching it, playing it, talking about it, and of course obsessing about our favorite team. The Boston Celtics have the most championships in the history of the NBA, but that’s old news. We want another title now. The Boston area sports teams have had a tremendous amount of success in recent years, but for most of us, basketball (and the Celtics) are still number one.
It has been a decade since the last banner. In some ways that feels like a long, long time (Jayson Tatum was 10 years old at the time). On the other hand, you have to remember that the team went back to The Finals in 2010 and nearly knocked LeBron out of the playoffs in 2012. It felt like that was the last grasp at greatness before an inevitable retreat into the abyss of NBA mediocrity.
Rebuilds are supposed to take a long time and there’s no guarantee of success, but somehow, some way, Danny Ainge managed to hit the fast forward button and built himself a championship contender in just a few short years.
Brad Stevens stands in stoic silence, arms crossed, eyes scanning the floor, seemingly calculating 200 variables simultaneously. Suddenly he shouts out an instruction, pointing emphatically for emphasis. Bodies fly toward the ball, the inbounder waits, waits, waits, then flings the ball in a high arc over everyone’s head. Realization hits the defenders almost as hard as a Semi Ojeleye screen as the ball finds an open Al Horford under the basket.
In one sense, every year is unique and fun in its own way. Watching Jordan (Steez) Crawford win Player of the Week on a lottery team was amusing. Witnessing Evan Turner turn his career around on the court was almost as fun as his post-game interviews. The whole Isaiah Thomas experience felt like a Hallmark movie come to life. Last season was the center of the Venn diagram intersecting the circles of perseverance and precocious talent.
Still, there’s nothing like a team that has that championship aura about them.
Jayson Tatum curls off the screen and catches the ball, pivoting into a triple threat position. His defender fights through the screen and lunges forward to invade Tatum’s space. Jayson calmly surveys his options, slides to his left with those impossibly long legs and a single side dribble. Then automatically goes into his shooting motion with plenty of daylight.
When that 2007-08 team was put together, you just knew that something special was in the works. A title was far from guaranteed and some caution was preached in the event that it took a while to figure out how all the pieces would fit together. But there was a combination of swagger and determination that set that team apart from the jump.
Caution will continue to be preached here on these pages (yes, even by the crazy blogger that said that this is a “championship team that hasn’t won a championship yet”). Gordon Hayward isn’t quite back to full speed, the team looked out of sorts in preseason (in particular on defense), and there’s the proverbial “lot of mouths to feed” problem to solve.
Still, there’s something about this team that makes me think that all that stuff will work itself out over time.
Marcus Smart crouches before the ball handler, head on a swivel, listening to Aron Baynes call out screens and rotations. As the dribbler makes his move, Smart is there a second before him and Option A is taken away. Jaylen Brown is contesting the passing lane on the wing, taking away Option B. It looks like there’s an opening on the other side, but as the ball handler delivers the pass, Smart’s fingers poke the ball loose and he’s diving for it before anyone has a chance to react.
The pieces of this team just seem to fit together so well. There are alpha scorers (Irving, Tatum) and renaissance men (Hayward, Brown, Horford). There’s veteran savvy (Baynes, Morris) and boundless youth (Rozier, Ojeleye, and perhaps Williams). Then there’s whatever Marcus Smart is (completely beyond definition).
They have the blend of experience and hunger of a team that has tasted success without reaching their ultimate prize. And they are bought into the leadership and direction of Brad Stevens, one of the best coaches in the game.
Gordon Hayward gets the ball at half court and dribbles up to three point line where Marcus Morris sets a screen. He takes a dribble towards the screen where the defender anticipates the contact and sneaks a peak to look for a way around it. Meanwhile the screen defender is hedging to make a switch. Seeing the angles, Hayward changes direction which knocks the 2 defenders into each other, opening a lane. Gordon fills the open space, drawing a wing defender down to cut off his lane, which leaves an open shooter in the corner.
There are just so many ways to enjoy this team, game by game, moment by moment. There will be SportsCenter highlights and subtle strategic adjustments. There will be graceful beauty as well as gritty, physical effort (sometimes on the same play). It won’t always be perfect, it might be frustrating at times, but only because we know just how much this team is capable of.
The bottom line is that this team should be a whole lot of fun to watch this year. Embrace this moment in time and treasure it. You just might be sharing these memories with your children and your children's children someday.
The game clock ticks down, ...5, 4, ...Irving meets a wall of defenders and kicks it out to Terry Rozier who’s a foot behind the line... 3, 2, ...he catches and shoots in one fluid motion... 2, 1, ... the ball soars through the air as the buzzer sounds, the crowd leans forward on the balls of their feet...
Carpe diem, Celtics fans. Seize this season and enjoy this team.