In its 104-93 win, Cleveland hammered home the point that Boston isn’t in the same class as the NBA’s elite. They aren’t even in the same school. As the Celtics experienced a 7:08 scoreless drought spanning the third and fourth quarters, a 4-point Cleveland lead ballooned to 17, and the Celtics’ day was, for all intents and purposes, over.
In one of its final regular-season opportunities to beat a championship contender, Boston struck out, just as it has for almost three full months now. The Celtics held two leads all day long, with the last one coming at 18-16. After that, it was all downhill, culminating in that humiliating seven-minute stretch during which the Celtics scored as many points as I did, sitting at home on my couch.
Even if Doc Rivers was right when he said the game wasn’t a must-win, it was still a measuring stick for a Celtics team that hasn’t won a big game this decade. And the Celtics measured up just about how Nate Robinson does when trying to get on rides at an amusement park; not big enough.
One got the feeling that Cleveland was treating Boston like its little brother. You know, let him hang around, keep the score close, don’t embarrass him too badly, but know you can score or get a stop at any point when you really need to. The Celtics have quickly disintegrated from the hunted champions with a bullseye on their chests to just another mediocre team searching for a marquee win.
They were outplayed top to bottom, with Cleveland sixth man Anderson Varejao outscoring the entire C’s bench combined and outperforming any starter Boston put on the floor. Boston’s bench scored only 15 points, and even Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce — Boston’s leading scorers with 20, 18, and 18 points, respectively — looked creaky and ill-equipped to face a team as well-oiled as the Cavaliers.
Today’s game meant far more to Boston than it did to Cleveland, but one never would have have been able to tell based on the effort. Boston allowed easy layups, second chance points, and open jumpers all game long — all signs of an old, weary team on its last legs.
Speaking of old and weary, Jeff Van Gundy made a good point about the Celtics’ Big Three. Just because people see the same names on the backs of the three stars’ jerseys, they expect them to be the same players, he said. But with 3,000 or so combined games under their belts, the players they used to be are gone and likely never to be seen again.
When the players we remember as the Big Three disappeared, so did the Celtics we came to love. We still see the name “Celtics” on the fronts of the jerseys, and we still see the same starters underneath those jerseys, so we expect the same results. But times have changed, and the team that once set out every night to set the world on fire now hopes to do nothing more than save a little face. Sure wins have become possible wins, and tough games might as well be considered “L’s” even before tip-off.
Before the game, Kendrick Perkins said he was “[looking] forward to the game, seeing exactly where we are at.”
After receiving a cold, hard glimpse at exactly where the Celtics stand, I don’t think he should have been so eager.