The All-Star break was great. A chance to forget about the blown halftime leads. A few days to escape the harsh reality of missed opportunities and lost games. Paul Pierce won the Three-Point Shootout. Rajon Rondo suddenly couldn’t miss from three-point range. Injury troubles were nil. Not even the worst dunk contest in the country’s history could make things seem bad. For a few days, the troubles of an under-performing team were put on hold.
But vacations don’t last forever. Breaks come to an end. And the troubles remain, as do the questions surrounding the aging and struggling Celtics.
Can the Celtics stop snoozing coming out of halftime? Can they throw the ball to their own teammates, rather than their opponents? Will Ray Allen get traded? Does Rasheed Wallace know he’s allowed to travel inside the three-point arc? Is Kevin Garnett’s knee beyond repair? Are the Celtics really as bad as they’ve looked? Do they know a game is more than 24 minutes long? Was that 23-5 start punctuated by a gritty Christmas Day win nothing but a mirage?
A game against the Sacramento Kings the day after the All-Star break ends would normally be nothing to worry about. But nerves are approaching a three-year high in Beantown. Not since the new Big Three was formed have times looked so bleak for the Boston Celtics. Even when Kevin Garnett was forced to sit out the entire playoffs last season, the sense of impending dread was never so high. There was always next year, the thought that another chance would be offered at a title.
But the promise of next year no longer exists. With Danny Ainge reportedly on the lookout for a trade to perhaps drastically alter the C’s roster, even next week may never materialize. And, with the way the Celtics have looked lately, that might not be a bad thing.
Beating the Kings would do little to stem the anxiety within Celtics nation, but a loss would add still more fuel to the flame of doubt engulfing the team over recent months. With the trade deadline looming Thursday, this could be the Celtics’ last go-round of the Big Three era.
When the Celtics play again, against the Lakers on Thursday, Ray Allen could be gone. After Allen helped turn the Celtics from bottom-feeders to champions in just one season, and only a year after his clutch exploits helped a short-handed Boston team take Orlando to seven games, letting him loose would be cruel. But those are the plights of a team faced with extending a closing window of opportunity while simultaneously turning around an inconsistent and unsatisfying season.
In the grand scheme of things, a game against the Kings may not mean anything. But when you take into account that it could possibly be Allen’s final game, the end of an era, and the dawning of a new day, the game has become more significant than anyone thought it might be when the schedule was made.
Three things to look for in tonight’s game:
- Tyreke Evans matchup – Not only is Evans the NBA’s best rookie, but he’s also a terrible matchup for the skinny Rajon Rondo. Evans is an absolute beast, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ray Allen on him for stretches. Rondo might be better off chasing around Kevin Martin.
- Offensive patience- If the C’s can be patient offensively, they should be able to take advantage of their distinct edge down low. The starting frontcourt of Spencer Hawes and Omri Casspi doesn’t exactly inspire fear.
- Third quarter performance – I hope I don’t have to explain this one.