In ’08, the Celtics were Rottweilers, looking to rip out their opponents’ hearts every night. In ’09, they were survivors, winning 62 games even after Kevin Garnett’s injury, taking the Orlando Magic to 7 games even while missing their best player, their heart and soul. And that’s where the story started to change.
Since then, the Celtics have been alternately brilliant and listless, Superman one day, one week, one month and Clark Kent the next. Toward the end of last season (actually, I guess it started earlier in the season), Boston began changing its pattern. Doc Rivers says now the team had a plan; the Celtics were going to limp into the postseason, so they could sprint when the postseason arrived. The plan worked, too; the Celtics became their former selves after a brawl (of sorts) with Quentin Richardson, dispatching the Heat, Cavs and Magic with ease. They lost to the Lakers in Game 7 (if you see me standing on the edge of a Western Massachusetts bridge, don’t let me jump), but the Rottweiler Celtics had made a return.
The seek-and-destroy mentality briefly continued into this season, but now it’s gone. Despite having three Hall-of-Famers in the starting lineup every night, not to mention an All-Star point guard, the Celtics have played basketball like my friend Dan acts when he’s drunk—at any time, they can either A) embarrass themselves to the nth degree, B) pass out, or C) puke all over themselves. And Doc says this year, none of this is by design. (ESPN Boston)
“Last year we had a plan. We knew exactly what we were doing,” Rivers said. “You should have seen it. Practicing, then not playing Kevin. Or telling guys you’re only playing 10 minutes tonight. We charted it out for them, 20 games left in the season. This is a totally different thing.
“Honestly, we’ve got to keep working on it and it’s my job to figure it out.”
Rajon Rondo agrees; it’s a different team, a team that has gone through the motions with no intentions to do so. A team that can speak about the importance of yesterday’s game with the Heat, then get hog-tied and shellacked by a less experienced opponent. A team that can lose to any team, on any night, in any arena. A team that has Paul Pierce questioning his teammates’ competitive spirit. The playoffs? The playoffs? Pierce just wants his teammates to play hard. (ESPN Boston)
“I’m confident,” Pierce said. “I think a couple little things are bothering me. Just having a competitive spirit. Sometimes I don’t think it’s always there and, me, I’m a competitive person. I think my game really thrives off competing, night in and night out, and when it doesn’t come from everybody, it’s really disturbing. If we can change that part about us as a unit, I give ourselves a great chance.”
“There’s only so many ‘hoo-rah’ speeches you can give,” Pierce said. “It has to come from everybody, each individual. Everybody has to look in the mirror, and I said this before: Everybody has to look at themselves individually and see what they’ve got to do to help this ballclub win — just bring a competitive spirit, play your role — but we have to do something.”
Do you remember “White Men Can’t Jump,” when Billy Hoyle’s fellow hustler Sidney Deane double-crosses him and Hoyle loses all of his savings? That’s how the Celtics have played lately, like Sidney Deane when he was point shaving, like Tony from “Blue Chips” (“get him some prophylactics”), like they want to lose. We figure that’s not what they actually want, but this team that used to play like Rottweilers every night now plays like it needs to chug on over to mamby pamby land, where maybe it can find some self-confidence (“you jackwagon”).
Back to “White Men Can’t Jump,” Hoyle’s girlfriend Rhonda tells him all about winning and losing.
“Sometimes when you win, you really lose,” she said, “and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic globule, from which one extracts what one needs.”
But if yesterday was—if this extended losing streak has been—all one organic globule, what, exactly, are the Celtics extracting?