(Sniffing) Do you smell that? Yup, that’s the scent of a real game. That’s the scent of the NBA season. That’s the scent of my girlfriend being a bit pissy because she won’t see me for the next eight months.
It’s finally here, folks. The Celtics’ quest for redemption begins tonight. Anything less than a title will be a failure, anything less than Banner 18 will be a disappointment. The Celtics are one of only four or five teams with legitimate championship aspirations, and the window isn’t getting any more open. The time to win is now, or the time to win might be never.
Since I’m not very creative and love jacking ideas from other writers, I put on my Bill Simmons hat today: I used movie quotes to somehow put together a Celtics season preview. Nobody ever said I could do it by myself.
Without further ado, Remember the Titans — err, Remember the Celtics.
“People say that it can’t work, black and white. Here, we make it work every day. We still have our disagreements, of course, but before we reach for hate, always, always, we remember the Titans.”
You thought combining a black high school football team with a white high school football team in 1971 Virginia created problems? Try throwing Shaq, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Delonte West, Glen Davis and Von Wafer in the same locker room. Virginia’s racism couldn’t possibly pose as many problems as the outrageous egos and personalities that will be wearing Celtics uniforms this season. (I kid, barely.)
People say the Celtics can’t work — old and young, sane and crazy, big and small. In Boston, they make it work every day (we hope). They still have their disagreements, of course (West and Wafer was just the first), but before they reach for hate, always, always, they remember the Larry O’Brien trophy.
“I don’t scratch my head unless it itches and I don’t dance unless I hear some music. I will not be intimidated. That’s just the way it is.”
The Celtics have been there, done that. They aren’t going to be afraid of the Los Angeles Lakers. They think they should have beaten them last year, and then added even more puzzle pieces this offseason. They aren’t going to fear the Miami Heat. Sure, the Heat have the newest Big Three. But the Celtics have the original and also have two men named Rajon and Shaquille, not to mention a deep and improved bench.
Nothing you can throw at the Celtics can shake their faith. They believe they are the best team in the NBA, and they won’t be intimidated. That’s just the way it is.
Attitude reflects leadership, captain.
The Celtics have a new leader this year. In reality, Rajon Rondo probably became the team’s leader at some point last year, but this marks the first year he heads into the first game as the man. Say what you want about Kevin Garnett’s good health, but he’s not what he used to be. Say what you want about Paul Pierce’s quickness this preseason, but he’s a step slower than he once was. And while those two show their age, Rondo improves by leaps and bounds every season.
The team is his now. His teammates know it. He knows it. Doc Rivers knows it. But can Rondo keep improving? Can he build on his All-Star, All-Defense season from last year? Can he become a more viable option in the clutch?
With Rondo, nothing’s out of play.
(Except, you know, the three-point line.)
(Okay, the foul line too.)
“Man, I just gave your mama a piggyback ride… and she weighs twice as much as I do.”
There’s no meaning to this line whatsoever. I just thought Delonte West might enjoy a good mama joke.
“Petey, how many feet are in a mile? How many feet are in a mile? … 5,280 feet! You pick this ball up and run every one of ‘em! You’re killing me, Petey! You’re killing me!”
To Marquis Daniels, last year. Daniels killed the Celtics. By the end of the year, playing with him on the court was like playing 4-on-5. Seriously, Daniels was like a ghost on the court. You couldn’t see him, but he was scary.
For whatever reason, after such a mutually disastrous year one in Boston, Daniels re-signed with the Celtics. Now he’s their only backup small forward, who will be counted on to defend premier scorers and give Paul Pierce breathers, not to mention provide a little bit of everything when he’s on the court. Doc Rivers called Daniels the Celtics’ key to winning, and maybe he’s right. Without a productive Daniels, the C’s have nobody to turn to when Pierce takes a seat.
I like Daniels’s talent, and I like what he does when he’s healthy and active. But the fact that the Celtics will rely on him this season still worries me.
“What is pain? French bread.”
And you thought injuries were a problem last season. HA! The three major additions, the O’Neal brothers and Delonte West, already have nagging issues. Kendrick Perkins is out until February. Paul Pierce’s knee was effed up last season, Kevin Garnett’s was too, and even two of the three rookies (Avery Bradley and Semih Erden) will start the season on the inactive list.
At least Glen Davis hasn’t punched himself out.
“You look like a bunch of fifth grade sissies after a cat fight! You got anger, that’s good you’re gonna need it, you got aggression that’s even better you’re gonna need that, too. But any little two year old child can throw a fit! Football is about controlling that anger, harnessing that aggression into a team effort to achieve perfection!”
My biggest fear about the Celtics, even more so than injuries, is that they implode internally. Not implode as in fight with each other, but implode as in literally implode. Do you know how many egos the Celtics have? Do you know how many crazy dudes put on uniforms in the Celtics’ locker room? Everything went well in the preseason (well, mostly everything), but there’s always the worry that things will change once games mean something.
The Celtics also have a lot of talent. That’s a good thing, of course. But what happens when Kendrick Perkins returns from injury and one of the O’Neal brothers gets pushed out of the rotation entirely? Something tells me Jermaine O’Neal won’t have as easy a time toeing the company line when he sees the letters DNP-CD next to his name.
Can the Celtics maintain the chemistry that has made them so special the past three years? Can they continue to follow the roots of Ubuntu, even with a new and eccentric cast of characters? Basketball is about controlling anger, harnessing that aggression into a team effort to achieve perfection. Are the Celtics strong enough to stay together throughout the whole season?
“It’s all right. We’re in a fight. You boys are doing all that you can do. Anybody can see that. Win or lose… We gonna walk out of this stadium tonight with our heads held high. Do your best. That’s all anybody can ask for. ” — “No, it ain’t Coach. With all due respect, you demanded more of us. You demanded perfection. Now, I ain’t saying that I’m perfect, ’cause I’m not. And I ain’t gonna never be. None of us are. But we have won every single game we have played till now. So this team is perfect. We stepped out on that field that way tonight. And, uh, if it’s all the same to you, Coach Boone, that’s how we want to leave it.”
Despite the concerns I raised earlier, I’ve got a good feeling about these Celtics. They didn’t care about the regular season last time around. They still desperately wanted to win a title, yet were bored by the process. But something’s different this year. There’s something about the way Kevin Garnett smiled this preseason, the way Paul Pierce’s step bounced, the way Shaq sprinted the floor in transition. (No, seriously. He really did.) The Celtics are enjoying themselves again.
I was driving home from my old college the other day after visiting my friends. The boring, mundane drive that I’ve completed millions of times was halfway through when I was suddenly struck by a feeling I had never felt before: the drive is actually beautiful. I’m normally so anxious to get home, so caught up in getting where I need to, that I completely miss how pretty and scenic the drive is. The other day, speeding by rivers and lakes that I’ve passed more times than I could count, observing fall’s beautiful yellows, oranges, reds and greens, I enjoyed the ride home for the first time ever.
The Celtics are ready to enjoy the ride. They still want to get home, sure, they still want to win a championship. But as the days dwindle and careers wind down, enjoying the process is more important than ever. Basketball is fun again, and the Celtics have a team that wants to do nothing but win and smile.
I’m not saying the Celtics are perfect. They’re not. They’re old and injury prone and sort of slow. (And did I say old?) But if a lot of things go right, and if the Celtics maintain their newfound youthful exuberance, they’re talented and deep enough to win an NBA championship.
Anything less is failure.