Losing 4 out of 5 games doesn’t disqualify a team for the championship. Well, I guess it would in the playoffs. Let me rephrase: losing 4 out of 5 games in December doesn’t disqualify a team for the championship. On this episode of First to the Floor, Jake Issenberg and I discuss reasons for optimism, some Danilo Gallinari trade targets, and why losing 4 in 5 isn’t a novel experience for a contender.
Some of the best teams of the modern era have gone through exactly what the Celtics are in the midst of — a really sloppy, lethargic, and unlucky stretch of play. As Ben, FTTF’s fearless leader and statistically extremely likely to be descended from convicts, put it, the Celtics are in that phase of getting in shape where they’re happy with the progress, get complacent, and put a few pounds back on. And like me during the last month or so, there’s no better time to put on a few pounds than during the holidays, it just can’t become a lifestyle.
So, with that extremely stretched and likely confusing metaphor, let’s look at some previous contenders that also went for seconds and had a few too many IPAs at some point during the regular season. A quick note: I avoided LeBron teams because he regularly coasted during the regular season. I just don’t think it’s particularly helpful in analyzing the Celtics’ current situation.
2018-19 Golden State Warriors
Lost in The Finals
Had they not been decimated by injuries, this team almost certainly would have been crowned the champs for the third season in a row. It’s one of the greatest collections of talent the NBA has ever seen. If you’re unfamiliar, it was like the team the Celtics just played in the Finals except instead of Wiggins they have Kevin Durant, the best scoring forward of all-time in his prime. Even still, as loaded as that team was, they lost 5 of 6 games in mid-late November and had another stretch of losing 3 of 4 in late February-early March. A team that, at times, looked invincible, had a hang up even worse than this recent stretch from the Celtics.
2018-19 Toronto Raptors
I actually think this version of the Raptors is a nice comp for the current iteration of the Celtics. You’ve got the two-way wing superstar (Tatum/Kawhi), the secondary scorer star (Brown/Siakam), a gritty veteran point guard (Smart and Lowry are basically the Spiderman Pointing Meme), an old veteran center playing incredible defense and solid offense (Horford/Gasol), and a collection of good-great role players (FVV, Powell, OG, Ibaka/Williamses, Brogdon, White). Fifty-eight wins is a ton and 24 losses is not a ton. A small number if you will. Well, this team lost 3 of 4 two different times during the season, one of which was in early to mid-December. The sky was not falling.
2017-18 Houston Rockets
Lost in 7 in WCF
This was an incredible team that probably wins the title if not for a cold shooting Game 7 against one of the most dominant teams in history. Shot a ton of threes, like a ton. Solid defensively. Oh damn, this is hitting a little too close to home. I will admit that if anything sinks the ‘22-’23 Celtics, it will probably be one too many games of cold shooting in a playoff series. But hey, there’s no way it’s 27 straight, right? So maybe I shouldn’t be comparing us to the apex of the joyless, but effective Harden Rockets, but it’s too late and writing is hard.
This team won an incredible number of games. Sixty-five is more than any rational Cs fan would expect out of this current group. Even so, these Rockets lost five straight. “When” you ask? From December 20-29. Ah! The parallels! Make it stop!
2013-14 San Antonio Spurs
I present, the pallet cleanser. Team coming off a Finals loss starts the year by playing unselfish team basketball and blowing the league out of the water made up of guys that have logged a ton of minutes together. Now that’s more like it. This was an absurdly fun team that got to the core of what makes basketball great. Move the ball, move yourself, play good defense. Ultimately, they’d stamp the legacy of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker for good. The best part, our guy Jake Issenberg made this comparison on a pod we did over the summer, and let’s hope he’s right.
Why am I bringing them up here? Well, this team lost 4 of 5 games in mid-January during what was otherwise a storybook season. Until the Celtics make losing over half their games the norm and not an anomaly, I’m going to believe they are writing a similar story. Here’s to Banner 18. So, in the words of the great American poet Michael Scott, “everybody stay calm!”
I hope you enjoy the episode and thanks for listening!