There are five definites to a Celtics game—I will watch, Lawrence Frank will scream his larynx silly, Jermaine O’Neal will nurse an injury, Kevin Garnett will shout words that would make my grandmother blush, and Ray Allen will speak to the media.
Without fail, Allen speaks. Whether he missed every shot he took (unlikely, and not sure if it’s ever happened in a Celtics uniform), whether his team lost or won, whether the Celtics were eliminated from the playoffs or won an NBA title, Allen offers the media 10-15 minutes of his time. He sits or stands at his locker, and the media horde surrounds him like a pack of tigers circling its prey. They ask questions, sometimes dumb, and he provides answers, always thoughtful. In regards to giving the media his time, Allen’s the best (and most consistent) member of the Celtics.
Last night, he snuck out Conseco Fieldhouse’s back door. As Lil Wayne once said, “Shh, the silence will speak to you.”
Other Celtics spoke out loud. Paul Pierce mentioned the terms “regressing,” “the little things,” and “inconsistency.” Doc Rivers said, “It’s a different thing every night.” And Kevin Garnett put it best: “The first and second effort has been there, but when the third and the fourth are needed, and getting on the floor, we haven’t been doing that.” If stops come easy, the Celtics can get them. If shots open without much trouble, the Celtics will find them. If a rebound bounces in their vicinity, the Celtics will grab it. But if things don’t come so simply? Ehh. They will rotate once, or maybe twice perfectly well, but the third rotation will be faulty. They are willing to work, but only to a certain point. After that, all bets are off.
It’s strange to see these Celtics so disconnected. They popularized the phrase “ubuntu.” They made a reputation as a team that never quit, never backed down, always fought, always competed, always played together. Now we see open teammates, and the ball not getting swung. We see open opponents, and nobody contesting with a hand up. We see Doc Rivers on the bench, with bags under his eyes, hands covering his face, and his eyes, we assume though they’re covered by his hands, rolled to the heavens. We see Rajon Rondo, floating in and out of consciousness. We see weak opponents run the in-game equivalent of layup lines, and every opposing front-court pretend that, for one night, it’s Bird/McHale/Parish.
We’ve seen this before, of course. Everything fell apart last year, too, like the final 45 minutes of Funny People. We asked the Celtics to care more, then, and they didn’t. They said they were bored. We asked them to scream, and bitch, and complain, but they didn’t. They promised they’d be ready come playoff time. Now they’re bitching, complaining and caring, and it’s a lot more unsettling than the confidence they showed last year. The Celtics knew they’d play well come playoff time last year. This time, it seems like everything’s falling apart.
Ray Allen’s screams of silence were the latest sign: nobody’s happy in the Celtics locker room. And they shouldn’t be happy, losing. But for the same reason people wondered about the Heat when they cried, I wonder about the Celtics now. Why all this weakness? Why does Doc Rivers say things are worse than last year, and why did he resort to calling his team out in the press (he never does that), and why is Ray Allen turning down post-game interviews, and why does nobody seem to have any answers? We heard answers last year, even if they weren’t necessarily the ones we wanted. The Celtics told us they were injured, and they told us they were bored, and they swore they’d improve when the games meant something.
This year, they’ve told us nothing so assuring. I’m not saying now is definitely worse, or the Celtics are doomed, or “Fuck it, I’m jumping off the bandwagon.” Until the All-Star break, the C’s were the NBA favorites, the consensus choice to win a title. They’ve shown the ability to thrive without Kendrick Perkins, and they’ve gone through almost an entire season without any serious injuries to the Big Three (knock on wood, while praying I didn’t just challenge the basketball devil). When playing their best, these Celtics can beat anyone, and they can do it while playing a beautiful brand of basketball, with their assists piling up, the ball being passed around quicker than a two-dollar whore, and their opponents gasping for air. But when those things don’t happen, and the Celtics play without a sense of urgency, they can play poorly enough to make Ray Allen skip out on the media.
A wise man (or Al Pacino) once said living is the six inches in front of your face. I wonder what dying is, and I hope it doesn’t come any time soon.