Once upon a time (read: ten days ago), a second-half collapse by the Boston Celtics would have brought an avalanche of despair. I can hear what exactly what the reaction would have been: “The Celtics are dead.” “They’re washed up.” “A bunch of has-beens.” “Noooooooooooooooo. Nooootttt agggaaaaaainnnnn.”
But there is an aspect of stringing together a few worthy performances that has already benefited the Celtics:
Impressive wins go a long way towards earning a team a little leeway when a bad loss comes around.
As recently as March 14, in the wake of a humbling loss to King James and his Merry Men, Boston fans were ready to leap off the Boston Garden’s roof after every defeat. But that was then, and this is now. A second-half spanking in Salt Lake City was very similar to the crumbling in Cleveland that had people planning the Celtics’ epithet, but there was a big difference.
What was it? The Cleveland loss seemed like the rule, while Monday night’s debacle took the form of the exception. A second-half meltdown. though certainly nothing new for these Celtics, no longer occurs nightly. Monday, it even seemed like a fluke. Just a bad half, amid a bunch of good ones. A speed bump, and nothing more. It didn’t strike anyone that Utah was a better team, or had younger legs, or even that Boston mailed in another game. The Celtics just seemed like your normal contender playing its third road game in four nights and simply running out of steam.
When asked if his team had taken a step back in Utah, Doc Rivers replied, “No, we just lost the game. We’re not going to overdo this.” Just like the fans, Doc was willing to give his boys some slack after a 2-1 road trip that rekindled talk of a potential championship run. The Celtics aren’t the team to beat, but they aren’t a bunch of walking zombies, either.
Maybe the Celtics don’t deserve the amount of slack they’re being given. Maybe they should be vilified for another lackadaisical effort in a season full of them. How can a smile-filled four-game stetch erase everything the previous 40 games taught us? — Don’t trust this team. Don’t expect 48 minutes of cohesion. Don’t expect wins against good teams. Don’t expect anything short of patchy performances and persistent disappointment.
But, as Doc Rivers points out, the Celtics are “just trying to get back to where [they] were at.” For four and a half games, before Utah sped away in a dominant second half, the C’s managed to look like they had done nothing short of accomplishing their goal. The second half against Utah was proof that Boston still has work left to round into peak form, but not even being dominated by Mehmet Okur could delete the progress Boston has made since the Cleveland loss. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it wasn’t burned down in 24 minutes.
Tonight, the Celtics embark on a six-game home stand, mostly against playoff-bound teams. The Denver Nuggets come to Beantown this evening for a 7:00 p.m. tipoff, hungry for a win after losing last night to the peon New York Knicks. That game saw Danilo Gallinari matching Carmelo Anthony shot-for-shot — and “English slang” for English slang — down the stretch, and should provide the Nuggets with motivation to have energy on the second night of a back-to-back.
Another day, another stiff test for the Celtics. Let’s hope they pass this one.
Both halves of it.
- The Nuggets will be missing Coach George Karl tonight — and maybe for the rest of the season — after he was diagnosed during cancer treatment with bloodclots in his lungs and one leg. (Our thoughts and prayers go out to Coach Karl and his family, friends, and team.)