Boston is Championship City. Since the turn of the century, Boston has won eleven championships: one by the Bruins, one by the Celtics, four by the Red Sox, and five by the New England Patriots. It’s a level of excellence that all professional sports teams have shared in what is arguably the best sports town in America. The Red Sox were the latest to lift a championship trophy over their heads (their fourth World Series in fourteen years), but the standard bearer in Boston has been the New England Patriots over the last two decades.
On February 3rd, the Pats will play in their ninth Super Bowl in eighteen years. It’s been a season of doubt, but when it mattered most, the Patriots put up and shut up its naysayers and now, they’ll go after their sixth Vince Lombardi trophy with Tom Brady under center and Bill Belichick patrolling the sidelines. For a Celtics team in the middle of a similar regular season, they can look at their Boston brethren for guidance and inspiration.
Obviously, there are glaring differences between the two. New England is the definition of a veteran team, not unlike those post-2008 Celtics that tried to squeeze every last bit out of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. These current Celtics are at the beginning of their championship window with one of the youngest rosters in the league compared to other contenders.
However, the narrative that has persisted around them have their similarities. All year, people have doubted their championship pedigrees. Every talking head has taken their shots at the teams with jabs of “they’re too old” or “they have too much talent” or “they’re lucky” or “the locker room drama is killing this team.” And yet, for the Patriots, they’ve used those outside voices to fuel their inner drive.
"I'm too old...you're too slow...we got nothin'"— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 21, 2019
"Unreal, bro." pic.twitter.com/7b2V9q6K6M
On Monday night after an MLK Day win over the Heat, the Celtics couldn’t stop complimenting the Patriots. In one breath, Al Horford marveled at Brady, saying, “there’s no debate of who the best of all time is. I know he probably doesn’t want to talk about that. We’ll say it for him. We all know that he’s the best and we should celebrate and enjoy it because it’s something very special.”
In another, he gushed about Kyrie and his ability to take over games: “Having that kind of player, and that kind of luxury, where we can just let him kind of take over, is good.” It’s not Horford was at all suggesting that the two are equal. No one would ever argue GOAT status for Irving, but even Irving is aware of his opportunity in Boston and raising #11 to the rafters with Banner 18 by its side. Retiring a number isn’t bestowed on good or even great players. For this franchise, you have to write history with a ring on your finger.
There’s the injury parallels with Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and the recovering Gordon Hayward. Season-ending injury and age slowed down the elderstatesmen of the receiving core, but in those fourth quarter and overtime drives, they came up clutch, third down catch after third down catch in Kansas City. For Hayward, it’s that timeline that he’s focused on. Grind now, but come March and April, be ready for the playoffs.
For Stevens, the link to the Pats is more than just a shared zip code. Stevens regularly visits Patriots training camp, visits with Belichick, and has become family friends with Josh McDaniels. They are relationships of respect and admiration. Stevens joked about naming his son “Brady” when he and his family lived in Indianapolis, but he’s kept a watchful eye on his cross town big brother.
When asked about how the Celtics could use the Patriots as an example, he said, “there are a thousand examples, but at the end of the day, it starts with their resolve and their dedication to doing every little thing. They are able to stay the course with incredible connectivity.”
To be frank, as passive aggressive as Kyrie’s or Jaylen’s or anybody’s post-game comments might have been over the last few weeks, those words from Stevens seem pointedly directed at his team. It not only calls for faith in their system and a growth mindset to be better every day, but more so, to do it together. From the outside looking in, that seems to be the biggest problem.
They’ve seemed to have righted the ship during this four-game winning streak, but a poor showing against the visiting Warriors on Saturday combined with the impending trade deadline could rock the boat (again). For the Patriots, they’ve battled external forces, whether that’s been the haters, the critics, or the AFC East (just kidding). For the Celtics, it’s been internal, mini-mutinies threatening to sink what could still be a special season. If there’s a lesson to be learned from the Patriots Way for these Celtics, it’s that they only have each other. New England has history on their side. So many of their players are career Patriots in a league that doesn’t really foster roster consistency.
The Celtics don’t have that. It’s easy to dismiss these growing pains that we’ve seen over the last few weeks as immature and arrogant, but they were necessary evils. Had all that lingered into the second half of the season, it could have become a real problem. But now the Celtics are here, striving for that “incredible connectivity” that Stevens wants for his team. It’s never been a problem in the past, but we knew that this grand experiment of having all these talented players was going to take time. The Celtics haven’t faced any 3rd-and-10’s with everything on the line yet and this season may not end with a Larry O’Brien trophy, but its a building block towards that “incredible connectivity.”