The Boston Celtics lost their second straight outing against a title contender yesterday and Doc Rivers uncharacteristically freaked out on his subjects. Elsewhere in the Atlantic Division, the Philadelphia 76ers might be tuning out Doug Collins and the New York Knicks are re-energized under Mike Woodson, even without Jeremy Lin and Amare Stoudemire. In other parts of the Eastern Conference, the Orlando Magic are falling apart amid a tornado of dysfunction, the Atlanta Hawks are looking at a simple schedule to finish the regular season and the Indiana Pacers are quietly playing good ball while holding onto the East’s third seed, at least for the time being.
The Atlantic crown comes with the conference’s fourth seed due to a silly rule which rewards winners of divisions that really don’t mean anything — in this season, with Miami and Chicago clearly a step ahead of everyone else, that fourth seed especially matters. Yet Boston leads the Sixers by just one game, an absurd schedule awaits the Celtics this month, and those damned Knicks are now just 2.5 games back. The Celtics are three games behind the Pacers for the third seed, a deficit that could be impossible to make up considering that A) the Hawks and Pacers also have better records than the Celtics in the race for the third seed, and B) the Celtics schedule is scary enough to make a bobble-head doll stop nodding.
If you’re a pessimist, you’ll note that the Bucks have won four of their past five to trail the Celtics by four games, meaning it’s possible for the Celtics to miss the playoffs entirely, at least if their schedule plays out as hellishly as it looks on paper. That clearly doesn’t seem likely, but, well, have you taken a look at the blasted schedule, which might have been Satan’s request for compensation when Danny Ainge asked him to deliver Brandon Bass to the Celtics in exchange for Glen Davis?
What I’m trying to say is the Celtics can’t afford to lose winnable games, like they did two nights ago against San Antonio and again last night in Chicago. They’ve been lucky for now that the Sixers are stuck in a heaping puddle of mud and the Knicks were so dysfunctional earlier in the season that their recent surge has only brought them so close. That luck isn’t likely to last the remainder of the season. The Celtics will need to beat playoff teams and title contenders during the regular season’s home stretch, like they throttled the Heat last week. They will need to patch together two good halves instead of one, the latter being the number of halves in which they chose to compete fully during their past two games.
These Celtics have spent the past couple months earning our trust, proving they are different, that they can be counted on not to coast during the regular season. It was telling that even during Rivers’ outburst after the Bulls game, he mentioned this team’s resilience. The Celtics have dealt with heart issues, injuries and scary concussions, all without missing a beat. They continued winning games after promoting Greg Stiemsma, who began the season as 15th man, to first big off the bench and Avery Bradley, who played himself out of the rotation during the first month, to starter. They started 4-8 and entered the All-Star break under .500, yet here they are, entering the stretch run as the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed.
Now they are dealing with a schedule that Satan chose as retribution for kidnapping and stealing Bass. It’s time to start winning games again, to revisit that well of resilience, or the playoff picture won’t look so pretty when it unfolds.