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Lessons from the Punk Rock Celtics

The 2016-17 Celtics were a lesson in toughness, grit and defying expectations.

NBA: Playoffs-Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics lost another game last night with this loss coming at the hands of the Toronto Raptors. For what feels like the first time this year, the Celtics really got blown out, and it stayed that way from the second quarter on.

What does “fighting” even mean here? What is toughness? Is it a bunch of fake tough guys screaming at each other “hold me back!” while fake swinging at opposing team members? Maybe?

What’s the difference between this year and last year? Every win felt like a miracle last year after more and more players succumbed to injury. When they hit 53 wins at the end of last season, I feel like the collective opinion was that of at least minor shock, especially when some “experts” predicted Boston missing the playoffs after Gordon Hayward’s injury.

That team made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. That team was minutes away from the NBA Finals and maybe a 3-pointer or two away from getting swept by competing with the Golden State Warriors. What’s the difference between this team and the Celtics of yesteryear?

Expectations. But you know that. Everyone and their grandmother has talked about it. We have to readjust our expectations.

That’s not to say that some of those bad losses weren’t frustrating to watch even for the most optimist-y of optimists. I’m incredibly frustrated. That’s also not to say that a 58-24 record is out of the question (it’s out of the question). It’s just another reminder to readjust expectations. That’s why it’s good to sometimes look back at teams that did well without any expectations. Why were they so successful? Was it simply because no one believed in them?

The 2016-17 Punk Rock Celtics were one such team, and they were insanely cool. That was literally their defining characteristic. When people ask about what was great about that team, typically the first responses surround words such as “heart,” “grit” and “toughness.”

Isaiah Thomas had the heart to play in a playoff game the day after his sister died. Jae Crowder had the toughness to “boopJohn Wall in the nose after Wall kept talking following the final buzzer (good times) in a regular season matchup. Even Avery Bradley, the quietst guy on the court, never let himself get pushed around. Do you see the irony in this clip? The Celtics had the grit to always come back after falling behind by 20 points. All they needed to do was switch shoes at halftime to get more buckets.

Some of the personnel is the same from those teams. The Celtics still employ Marcus Smart, and he’s the only Celtic to get thrown out of a game this year (twice if you count preseason). Jaylen Brown still plays for the Celtics, and there are games when it looks like he’s the only one interested in the the concept of layups. Is that notable?

Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows anything about this team. I used to think that starting kerfuffles on the basketball court was a distraction for the Punk Rock Celtics, but maybe that’s what fueled them. I know for a fact that it fueled the energy surrounding the fandom for the Celtics. We ate the Punk Rock motif up, and that attitude was a huge starting point for, uh, weirdcelticstwitter.

If for nothing else, maybe we need more guys being ejected to feel good about seeing tangible “fight” exist for this team outside of Marcus Smart. Maybe we need Brad Stevens to get tossed out of a game. Maybe we need moments like last night when he loudly threw a swear word in the direction of the referee on National TV (and lemme tell ya, that was a shock).

One thing’s for sure: we need more fight just like Al Horford said. The real issue is that this team doesn’t know what that means or how to qualify it. As the team’s leader, it might be on Brad Stevens to shift the culture of this team back to what it was during the Punk Rock Celtic days. Maybe that’s impossible because we don’t have guys like Jonas Jerebko, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder in the locker room.

We do have Marcus Smart, so there’s a start. But that overachiever “hold me back” attitude starts from the top. I’m not trying to incite violence in NBA games or anything. At the end of the day, the Celtics are playing basketball, but they don’t have to be sweet about it. No matter what form of fight the Celtics choose to tack onto their nonexistent identity, they need to do it quick. Talent alone won’t get these Celtics playing into June.

Attitude will.

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