Here we are on Super Bowl Sunday, Boston sports fans hoping Tom Brady can polish off Eli Manning like he could not do four years ago, not aware exactly what a loss would mean to Brady’s legacy, but knowing a win would catapult him into a stratosphere reserved for quarterbacking gods.
Before the Patriots kick off, the Celtics host a scrum of their own, against the Memphis Grizzlies. While waiting for football, commercials and (hopefully) tasty buffalo wings, we can all daydream that Boston’s recent resurgence amounts to something more lasting than a few early-season wins.
Out of nowhere, with little evidence that they could, the Celtics are forging an identity as men who can’t be moved. Rajon Rondo fell to injury and two raw backup point guards stepped in admirably, leading the C’s to a 6-2 record. Paul Pierce needed a few weeks, but he has returned to the indomitable scorer whose methodical forays to the hoop reveal a level of footwork for which most ballerinas would strive. Kevin Garnett has preached about bar fights and screamed in the faces of young infants, but he is resembling the two-way player of yesteryear who wreaks havoc on third-world countries and opposing teams.
The Celtics miss shots at times, but they respond by digging in defensively. Their starters struggle on occasion, but Bradley, Brandon Bass, Mickael Pietrus and Chris Wilcox rotate on a carousel to determine who will change the game’s complexion each night. The Celtics have not scored more than 100 points in any of their past eight games, but they are 7-1 in that span nonetheless.
Tough. It’s not a word I thought I would use to describe this unit, not when they were limping to a 5-8 start, executing offense like a second-grade in-town soccer team and rebounding the basketball like it was a grenade. But these Celtics are becoming easy to root for, not just because they are winning, but because they are winning due to contributions from every piece, because they are winning even when the hoop feels like it’s smaller than normal, because they are winning most nights due to effort and grit, rather than meshing talent.
Recently they are treating the regular season like a worthy challenger, an attitude Celtics fans have not reasonably been able to expect for a few years. Perhaps it’s the young legs being infused into the rotation. Perhaps, as Doc Rivers preached, it results from Boston’s purging of the knuckleheads. Perhaps it was waking up, looking in the mirror and seeing a 5-8 team staring back. Perhaps it’s something else. Whatever the catalyst, these Celtics were backed into a corner and came back spraying bullets.
They are hard-nosed again, at least temporarily. They scrap, even in the regular season. They fall down 27 points and decide giving up isn’t an option. They’ve lost one game since Jan. 20, and it was a late-game collapse to the Cleveland Cavaliers. They defeated Orlando twice, sending the Magic reeling. Or maybe they drop-kicked Orlando straight in the heart. They ousted the Pacers, responded to their one loss by holding off the Cavs (and The Energizer Bunny Anderson Varejao) two nights later, judo-chopped the Raptors in the jugular and overcame a slow start plus a putrid shooting night to push past the Knicks. These Celtics are starting to play winning basketball consistently, even when not operating at their finest; though recent history tells me the Celtics are not trustworthy during the regular season, I’m beginning to believe.
Maybe not believe they are contenders, but at least believe they are game competitors on a nightly basis. They’ll need to be against the Memphis Grizzlies, who fight for table scraps game in and game out. And after the Celtics game — win or lose – we’ll have Tom Brady, Super Bowl commercials and tasty buffalo wings.
May Boston teams go 2-0, and all the ads be funny.