“You are what you repeatedly do,” philosophized Aristotle. “Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.”
If he’s right, the Boston Celtics are screwed. Sometimes, their offense will go haywire and turn the ball over time after time. Other times, their defense is non-existent, allowing opponents to score at will. Sometimes, they even play great. But even when they do, they are nowhere close to making excellence a habit.
If the Celtics are what they repeatedly do, then what exactly are the Celtics? They don’t repeatedly, consistently, do much of anything. The only consistent aspect of their play is its inconsistency. They repeatedly do anything but string together good games and solid performances. Come to think of it, maybe they do repeatedly do something: Lose big games, and underachieve at home. That, and sucking miserably in second halves. Even so, every once in awhile they’ll pull a fourth-quarter rabbit out of their hat and pull a game out down the stretch. But they don’t do much of anything consistently well.
Which is why Doc Rivers’ comment after last night’s game was so confusing:
“It was amazing, I thought, how many things we did that were out of character,” he said, ”and that bothers me. I can live with a loss, but when you don’t play right, that bothers me.”
Out of character, Doc? What exactly is the Celtics’ character, if it doesn’t involve prolonged stretches of mediocrity? If it doesn’t involve playing wrong, at least some of the time?
No, last night’s game perfectly illustrated the Celtics’ character: “We’re playing against Houston, and Kevin Martin is hurt? This is going to be an easy one! Wait, you mean Shane Battier’s out too? Score! And Trevor Ariza? Does that mean they’re going to start Chase Budinger? We don’t even have to show up, we’re the Celtics! The big, bad Celtics! You guys can see our rings, right?”
What the C’s forget is that they haven’t accomplished anything. Not this year. Nothing at all, besides giving their fans a few too many headaches and rapidly rising within the ranks of the most-booed teams in Celtics history.
They say the right things before the game, too. Like they realize teams aren’t afraid of them anymore. “Teams are ready to beat us and are ready to play against us,” Rajon Rondo admitted. “It’s probably because we don’t put that dominant fear in them from the start of the game. We give the team confidence. Our team knows it.”
But then they come out and play like their opponents will roll over and die, just because of a banner lifted to the rafters a couple years ago. And Doc Rivers speaks of a bad loss being out of character? Pshh. The sense of entitlement, of deserving wins they don’t earn, IS the Celtics’ character. And they’re doing it all with a team that is more talented than last year’s version that won 62 games.
“Talent-wise, we’re better,” Rondo said. But, he continued, “[Our] record is terrible.”
Terrible, indeed. And the way they’ve earned that record is miserable. Miserable to watch, miserable to write about, miserable to think about. The results? Losses to the Nets, and now to a Rockets team with its top three wing players in street clothes, and starting at least two players who wouldn’t crack the Celtics’ top twelve players. An inability to play up to good competition, and a willingness to play down to bad competition. Depressing stuff, really.
Not that they seem too worried about it. “I think our team is really built for the playoffs,” Paul Pierce said. And then, “I know we can beat all the teams in the top in a series. I know that if we play the way we know we can play consistently over a series … we have the pieces right here to win a championship.”
The pieces? Yes. But the right attitude, dedication, and execution? Not yet, and Aristotle would say that probably means not ever. Well, unless the Celtics can somehow make excellence a habit during their final seven games. But even building momentum during the season’s final weeks doesn’t seem like a priority.
“Once you get to the playoffs, [the regular season] is going to be forgotten,” Pierce said. “They are going to remember what you did in the playoffs.”
But if the Celtics don’t start making excellence a habit, people’s playoff memories of the 2010 Boston Celtics are going to be far too short.