Forgive me if I mention years past, but our view of the present will always be contorted by a prism of prior experiences. If I had not fallen from a tree branch when I was younger, I would not be deathly afraid of heights today. If I had not lost my final high school game in devastating fashion, I would be able to watch other seniors end their own careers without tearing up myself. Everything that has ever happened to us shapes how we react to life’s next step.
Thus, I look at these playoffs and remember the trip to the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals; the Celtics were two games from reaching the Finals yet many years from truly becoming relevant. I remember the 2006-’07 debacle; Celtics fans collectively talked themselves into a future we thought would prominently feature Sebastian Telfair and Gerald Green. I remember 2009; we still held out hope, even after Kevin Garnett’s injury ruined any real title chances. I remember last season; the Celtics collectively lifted us and then left us with tears in our eyes. And I remember 2008; I remember my strong confidence in the Celtics, a confidence that bordered on cockiness, a confidence born from watching the Celtics consistently reach a level no other team could reach. I remember those teams and I judge this year’s squad relatively.
I remember those teams and I judge this year’s squad relatively. Through a regular season that was more Tower of Terror than The Cyclone (the Tower of Terror has one great high, followed instantly by a quick drop), this year’s team never inspired that same confidence. We have certainly seen the Celtics reach greatness this season (the Spurs win comes to mind, as do the first three games against Miami, as does the first win against LA); but not in the sustained fashion of the ’08 Celtics, and very rarely since a midseason trade altered the roster and chemistry of what had been one of the league’s most cohesive units. To trust this team is to expect a repeat of last season. To trust this team is to expect the Celtics to thrive even after a tailspin that has lasted since February. To trust this team is to believe in the power of experience, to believe the late-season slump was a product of boredom and disinterest rather than a precipitous fall to mediocrity.
To trust this team is to have faith. Faith that Rajon Rondo can still become Playoff Rondo, the triple-double machine. Faith that Ray Allen can free himself for more shot opportunities. Faith that Jermaine O’Neal can stay healthy, or Shaq can get healthy, or the Celtics’ center-by-committee approach can somehow give the Celtics enough of an interior presence. Faith that Danny Ainge knew what he was doing. Faith that the switch will not only be flipped, but also that the resulting light will be strong enough to navigate past a treacherous Eastern Conference and whoever wins the West, and to do that mostly without home court advantage. This Celtics team enters the playoffs equipped with a laundry list of doubts that extends all the way to the floor.
Still, we have hope, and not just because, being fans, that is what we do. The Celtics start four All-Stars. They have been known to raise their play when the postseason arrives. They have a roster as deep and talented as any, and experience to rely on when games get close and buttholes begin to tighten. They are healthier than last season, and they should be hungry to avenge their Game 7 loss. (Damn it, it still hurts.)
There are reasons to have hope. Even if I enter the postseason with certain reservations, even if I don’t know what to expect, even if I don’t yet fully trust my favorite team.