Nothing the Celtics can do tonight against the Detroit Pistons will ease my doubts. They’ve fallen, and it seems like they can’t get up. I’ve come to terms with it, now, finally.
The Celtics are down for the count.
After yesterday’s loss to the Cavaliers, it’s as plain and simple as Tim Duncan’s game. The Celtics aren’t going to be a contender, not this year. They don’t have what it takes to win a championship, or even come close. The truly elite teams have lapped them, left them behind like Zydrunas Ilgauskas in a suicide. This year just isn’t the year.
It’s sad, too, because everything started out so peachy. The Celtics were 6-0, and smacking everyone around like this was the WWE. Six games into the season, I was getting fitted for my NBA championship t-shirt. The Celtics had dreams of 72 wins, and their play showed why. Why stop at 72, I thought? Let’s get 75 or 77. The Celtics were hungry, talented, and driven. This year was going to be great.
By the time Christmas rolled around, the Celtics were 23-5, and throttled the Orlando Magic without Paul Pierce in front of a national television audience. Sitting in front of my T.V., eating my aunts’ Christmas feast, I had just about abandoned hope of 72 wins, but what did it matter? After undressing the Magic on Christmas, the Celtics were clearly the class of the East. I couldn’t wait for a rematch with the Lakers in the finals.
Two days after Christmas, Baron Davis hit a buzzer-beater to send the Celtics to a heart-wrenching defeat. Who cares?, I thought. It was a normal letdown after owning the Magic so thoroughly in the previous game. But that Clippers game was the first of many like it — disappointing, uneven efforts that brought disappointing, uneven results.
Looking back on it, Davis’ game-winner was the shot that put a hole in the Celtics’ ship. They sprung a leak that day, and water’s been spilling into the vessel ever since. The Celtics’ sinking has been slow, marred by injuries, inconsistency and boredom, but it’s undeniable. With a record against the league’s elite more befitting the New Jersey Nets, and a sub-.500 record for their past 37 games, the Celtics aren’t a great team anymore. Hell, they’re barely even good.
Win or lose tonight in Detroit, the sinking has already taken place. It’s possible that the Celtics could right the ship and plug the leaking hole in time for the playoffs, but it would be almost unprecedented. As Zach Lowe notes, only three champions in NBA history have gone through dry spells as long as the current Celtics’ stretch. Two of them (the ’78 Bullets and ’75 Warriors) played in very mediocre eras, and another (the ’94 Rockets) experienced an injury-riddled regular season and traded Otis Thorpe for Clyde “The Glide” Drexler in the middle of February. With The Glide — still averaging almost 22 ppg — in tow, the playoff Rockets were a very different team than the one that suffered through a 47-35 regular season.
The Celtics aren’t playing in a mediocre era, and nobody besides perhaps Isiah Thomas would argue that Nate Robinson and Michael Finley will play a Drexler-like role to help lead them to a championship. The season appears over, lost a long time ago and never to be discovered. Championship teams don’t sleepwalk through almost half their schedule, and they don’t get beat down in every showdown with the NBA’s top teams.
It’s been hard to give up on this season, because this team still possesses talent capable of stringing a championship run together, and I doubt I’ll ever entirely let go of hope. But consider this column as my waving of the white flag.
The NBA is blowing the Celtics out right now, and Gino is up on the scoreboard, swiveling his hips and mocking Boston while the NBA’s crowd goes wild. The NBA is lighting up Red Auerbach’s victory cigar, and the Celtics can do nothing but sit on the bench with a towel over their heads, deflated and depressed.
The Cavaliers’ game was the final wave that pushed the Celtics all the way under, but they’ve been on the way down for some time now.