Sometimes the sports calendar aligns to give you a great weekend. Sometimes that great weekend turns to junk. Let’s run through what was ultimately an awful weekend of sports for New England.
1. Thursday afternoon - The NCAA Tournament tips off! It features only two New England schools: Vermont and Northeastern. Vermont battles valiantly, but ultimately falls to Florida State. Northeastern gets destroyed by a Kansas team that was ripe for an upset. Just like that, by dinner-time on the first day of the Tournament, New England is no longer represented. Given the overall state of New England area basketball, it might be a while before the region is really relevant in March.
2. Saturday - The Celtics are cruising along against the Hornets. No Al Horford, Gordon Hayward or Aron Baynes, but no worries. Then, with 8:21 to play, Boston proceeds to blow an 18-point lead in spectacular fashion. Kemba Walker goes supernova and carries a hungry Charlotte team to a win.
3. Sunday late-afternoon - Rob Gronkowski retires. We all probably saw this one coming, but there was hope he might hang on for one more season. No one can blame Gronk for calling it quits. He doesn’t owe the Patriots, or football in general, anything. He played through a lot and left it all on the field. Happy trails Gronk! (Even if Tom Brady’s weapons left are...ugh!)
4. Sunday evening - The Celtics play at home against the Spurs. Horford is still out, but Hayward returns and so does Baynes, which is a shock considering the initial diagnosis he was given. But it matters not. Longtime Celtics-killer LaMarcus Aldridge dominates to the tune of 48 points on 20-of-31 shooting, as the Spurs pull away in the fourth quarter and destroy Boston.
5. Sunday late-evening - Brad Stevens takes 15-20 minutes longer than usual to get to his postgame press conference, saying he was having a chat with the team following the game. Stevens won’t term it a “meeting”, but admits that there are a lot of frustrated people in the locker room. Then, the locker room stays closed to the media longer than usual, as the Celtics have yet another lengthy meeting. Or chat. Or argument. Or debate. Whatever. We’ve lost count of how many times this has happened this year, that’s how many of these “conversations” have taken place.
And here we are. Multiple times, the Celtics left the court during the Spurs game to a chorus of boos from a fan base that is as frustrated as the players and coaches. This is at least the fourth or fifth time this season Boston has been booed off their home court after playing with a visible lack of effort and/or cohesion.
There isn’t a lot of point breaking down what went wrong against San Antonio. They couldn’t stop Aldridge. The ball didn’t move enough on offense. They missed Horford. Stevens made a bad decision by starting Hayward over Jaylen Brown. Pick your reason. They all probably work.
The challenge with having that many reasons for a loss is that it’s late-March. If you lose a game to the Spurs in late-March, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. They’ve been beating teams at this time of year for literally two decades. But when you no-show and get hammered at home for your fourth straight loss, on the heels of an embarrassing collapse, after so many other bad losses this season, you should be ashamed.
Somehow, Stevens retains optimism, but that’s kind of his job. If he admits to negativity now, the whole thing could fully crumble. The positive folks will point to just how good the Celtics are when they are at their best. But that’s happened at most five or six times this season. Every NBA team has five or six games of their best play on their ledger at this point in the year. Even the woeful New York Knicks have five or six games they can point to and feel really good about.
Again: it’s late-March, less than three weeks from the playoffs, and Boston is having lengthy team meetings and playing awful basketball around the occasional flash of brilliance. That’s the resume of two types of teams. The first is a lottery team that has it all come together once and a while to show what kind of team they are could grow in to. The second is a team like the Golden State Warriors that is playing out the string of the regular season, because the playoffs is the real season for them.
It would be really nice to believe the Celtics fall in that second category, but they haven’t earned that. They aren’t proud champions bored with a regular season that is beneath them. They haven’t won anything. For a while, that was the message: “No worries. We’ll turn it on on the playoffs”. But, why should anyone believe that? What confidence do you have? Because Boston has played five or six really great games?
There is keeping the faith when things are down. This is the type of trust the New England Patriots have built. We’ve been trained not to abandon ship, because they always come through when it matters.
Then there is blind faith that ignores all the warning signs. That’s where things are at with the Celtics. If you want to believe in the handful of great wins more than the ever-growing pile of bad losses, you’re starting to stand on a pretty sparsely-populated island. Maybe you’ll be the one to say “Told you! Never doubted ‘em!” at the end of the season. But those percentages dwindle by the day. Just like those who continue to have faith in this Celtics team figuring it out before it’s too late.
But, hey! Red Sox Opening Day is Thursday! And, after a West Coast swing to open the season, they hang a World Series pennant and get some jewelry on April 9th.
TRAGS & PAVON ‘WALK OFF’ REPORT vs SPURS: