On one hand, the Celtics’ final preseason game tonight against the New Jersey Nets means nothing. It’s just one more dry run, followed by five days of preparation. And on Tuesday, six days from today, the Miami Heat come to town. That’s when the real show begins.
On the other hand, the Celtics’ final preseason game holds more significance than the NBA Finals. Just ask Von Wafer, who will likely play in China if the Celtics cut him following tonight’s game. Just ask Stephane Lasme, who has no Plan B for when, or if, he gets cut. Lasme just wants to be close to his family, which happens to live in Massachusetts. The NBA only permits teams to carry 15 players on a roster. The Celtics have 16 players worthy of inclusion. One will be sent home, likely tonight.
The importance of tonight’s game, at least to Wafer and Lasme, is life-altering. But most fans just can’t stop thinking about opening night, six days from now.
“There’s never been an opening game that has been more heavily anticipated,” Ray Allen told WEEI.
“I think with the anticipation [after] our exiting the finals last year and then with the new additions to Miami, they overly hyped the game,” Kevin Garnett added. “Yeah, I can see this has a lot of episodes, a lot of drama, if you will. It will have a lot of soap opera feel to it. Days of Our Lives, Another World, Santa Barbara.
“My grandmother was a big, big soap opera fan so it was either go outside or sit in there with her so I know that schedule quite well.”
Once you can get over the shock of Garnett watching soap operas, his message resonates. Before the Celtics and new-look Heat have met even once, a rivalry has been forged. The public has wanted a Heat-Celtics matchup since Lebron took his talents to South Beach, and so have the players.
The Celtics ran their mouths this summer, saying they aren’t afraid of the Heat. They’re the defending Eastern Conference champions, and until someone takes that title away the Celtics will consider themselves the East’s best. The Heat, meanwhile, have said all the right things. They’re still chasing the Celtics, they say. They haven’t won anything yet. But somewhere under that thin layer of humility rests a team that believes itself to be the greatest, not only in the Eastern Conference but the entire NBA. And they want to start proving it on opening night.
Coaches beg players not to overlook an opponent all the time. If I had a dime for every time my high school coach told me to “focus only on the task at hand,” I’d be living in my dream house, wearing Armani suits and eating nothing but caviar and steak. But tonight’s game is especially easy to overlook, especially because the W or L won’t show up on the Celtics’ record, especially because the NBA’s paper champions stand menacingly in the on-deck circle. Easy to overlook, that is, unless you’re Von Wafer or Stephane Lasme. Then, tonight’s game is the Super Bowl come early.
On a completely unrelated note, I now know why Garnett plays with so much rage. I’d have a lot of pent-up anger, too, if I spent my childhood watching Days of Our Lives.