The morning after, I’m still stunned. There’s no other explanation for it.
As much as I hoped the Celtics would beat the Cavs, only in my very wildest imagination did I ever dream it would come true. The Cavs were too good. They had the world’s best player and an improved supporting cast too. They were athletic and versatile, characterstics the Celtics struggled against in the regular season. Actually, is there any characteristic the Celtics DIDN’T struggle against during that goddamn regular season that was straight from the bowels of hell?
Yet today the Celtics prepare for a rematch with the Orlando Magic. I am rarely left speechless, but the previous sentence is leaving me just that. I like to think I can normally describe my emotions with words. Hell, sometimes I get too wordy in my writing. But for the Celtics to have just dispatched the Cavs, words are completely evading my grasp. Here’s my best attempt at describing my feelings.
The regular season was nothing but a frustration. One bad loss after another. The Celtics heard more boos, I assume, than any other 50-win team in history. And the fact of the matter is, they deserved every single one of them. Probably more. Painful doesn’t begin to describe how bad it was to be a fan of the Celtics this season. It was like taking stomach punch after stomach punch. I’ve been a fan of bad teams before — really, really bad teams — but this season was the most disappointed I’ve ever been in a regular season. Expectations were so high to begin the campaign and the 23-5 started looked so promising, but then there was despair.
There was so much despair this season I don’t even want to describe it. There were losses, blowouts sometimes, sprinkled everywhere we looked. The bottom dropped out to the point that I figured Boston should blow the roster up and start a rebuilding process. I wanted Danny Ainge to trade Ray Allen to the highest bidder and I cursed Kevin Garnett for having too big a contract to move. It was time to make Rondo the star and surround him with some younger talent. The Big Three Era had quite clearly run its course.
Except, the Celtics knew something we didn’t. They knew they were just conserving energy for the playoffs. They had all the pieces in place to make a run at another ring, they just needed playoff health to piece that run together. When Doc Rivers forced Kevin Garnett to sit for a couple weeks earlier in the season, we threw our hands in disgust and “knew” Garnett was seriously injured. It was a flashback to last year, and it was scary. But Rivers knew exactly what he was doing. He sat KG to insure KG’s health later on, when the games really counted. The Celtics learned from the failures of last year, when an undeterrable passion to win regular season games eroded the Celtics’ health and left them — without KG — incapable of defeating the Orlando Magic in Round Two.
And now they meet Orlando again, this time with a healthy KG in tow. KG hasn’t looked better since 2008, and neither have the Celtics’ chances of winning a title. I don’t know what will happen when they play Orlando, but I’m finally confident that the Celtics will bring their best effort. Just like a certain team in 2008.
2008 was my favorite year as a Celtics fan. Being only 22 years old, that year brought the only Celtics title of my life… so it being my favorite year makes sense. Even if they hadn’t won, it would have been the most fun I’ve ever had rooting for a team. Those Celtics never backed down from anything, and responded best when they were challenged. They treated every game like it was the NBA Finals, and that’s what that certain team needed. None of the Big Three had ever won a title, and they were trying to learn how to play championship basketball on the fly. They needed to hone their championship ball in the regular season, to be ready to win one come playoff time.
This year’s Celtics didn’t need to learn how to win — they already knew how. They simply needed to bide their time and maintain their health. Of course, at the time we didn’t understand that. We remembered 2008 and that balls-to-the-wall mentality. We yearned for the days when our team gave its all every night. We saw another epic failure seemingly once or twice a week, heard Doc Rivers say he liked his team and thought, “Bullshit.” We saw a bunch of shitty losses and wanted to trade Ray Allen. We saw some more shitty losses and gave up hope, not just for this season but the entire Big Three era. We were ready for the Celtics to roll over and die, for Lebron or whomever else to stomp all over them.
And then they flipped the script. Or at least we thought they flipped the script. Really, the script has been the same all year long. The regular season isn’t what matters, the playoffs do. Homecourt advantage doesn’t mean shit if your best player is sitting on the bench in a suit, spewing profanities at anyone within shouting distance. The Celtics understood that all season long, and played accordingly. We understood it too, but still couldn’t swallow our team playing so poorly. We saw the Celtics’ shortcomings as fatal flaws, when really they could all be cured with a little effort.
The Celtics might have already advanced as far as they will go. Orlando looks like a juggernaut with talent and depth at every position, undefeated thus far in the playoffs. But even if the Celtics do lose — even if they fall victim to Orlando for a second straight year — it won’t make me forget what I learned against Cleveland.
I’ve finally forgiven the Boston Celtics for a regular season from hell. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I should have:
They were following the right script all along.