Last night in Atlanta, the Celtics earned themselves a much-needed win.
It was their first since the trade deadline and their third in six tries on this extended road trip. Subsequently, the victory brought Boston within a game and a half of the all-important sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, and will likely (or hopefully) give them an extra jolt for the last leg of this trip.
At the very least, it provided everyone involved with a much-deserved break from the madness.
Did you really want to spend the next two days discussing Boston's three-game losing streak and the race to add a useless big man?
Nope. And thanks to last night's win, you won't have to. (Actually, no guarantees on the big man.)
Anyway, all in all, it was a pretty painful game. It looked frighteningly similar to what happens these days when when my friends and I try to play pick up. Seriously, the Celtics and Hawks looked like a crew of slow and out of shape 30-somethngs running around trying not to get hurt. For most of the night it was hard to watch.
That it is, until Jeff Teague did this:
1. The Dunk
I feel like every night, there's at least one moment when the basketball gods deliver a cold and clear reminder that the clock's running out on the Big 3.
And last night, Teague's dunk nearly knocked me unconscious.
First, just watching KG chase him down the court. I'm sitting there thinking: "Come on. Run back on defense!" Then I realized he was running.
In Ray's case, getting dunked on isn't a huge deal, seeing he was never really known as a ferocious shot blocker, but here's what I found disturbing:
Allen was at half court before Teague even reached the three point line.
Seriously, take one more look at the video. Look at the head start Ray has on defense, consider that Teague is also dribbling a ball(!) and shake your heads in unison. Damn.
The only thing that could make that dunk more depressing is if you watched it while listening to this.
2. The Disrespect
I can't get too get carried away over Teague's celebration, because if he'd done it against any other team, I probably would have thought it was great.
Really, what did he do?
He held the finish a little too long.
He took a slight step in Ray's direction.
At this point in the game, the Celtics and Hawks were just about going at each others throats. The caliber of play may have been gross, but the intensity was at an all-time high. I mean, so many of the faces have changed, but somehow it still felt like the 2008 playoffs. I don't care how long it's been. The seeds of hatred that were planted during that series still very much exist.
So, in the heat of battle, Teague threw down explosive and demoralizing dunk, in front of his home fans (all seven of them), and got a little carried away. Whatever. Do I wish he'd just turned to the crowd, thrown up his hands and run the other way? Of course, but it was a great dunk, in a huge moment. We've seen a lot worse. It doesn't bother me.
But it did bother the Celtics, and changed the course of the game.
(Quick question: Is Teague's reaction less acceptable because the scream was directed at a legend like Allen? From our view, maybe. But at the same time, it's not fair to expect these guys to hold the Big 3 in a higher standing in the midst of competition. That's what the Big 3 wants them to do; it's a psychological advantage. And one that, if plays like this are any indication, is fading by the day.)
3. The Run
After Teague's dunk, the Celtics trailed 47-39, and looked to be on the ropes. Instead, the jam triggered Boston's most inspiring stretch of basketball in nearly a week.
At its most impressive, the run registered at 34-11. It helped Boston turn an eight-point deficit into a 15-point lead, and even though they nearly choked it away at the end . . . they didn't. It was enough, and it's the reason Boston wonstole that game.
We're about six weeks away from the start of the postseason, and the Celtics have already been hit with the cliched "Team nobody wants to play" label. And runs like this one will perpetuate that. If you'd turned on last night's game in the middle of third quarter, you wouldn't have had any idea that the Celtics are where they are. You wouldn't have seen a team that was still fighting to make the playoffs, and had been written out of the championship conversation. You would have seen a TEAM. Six or seven guys who were entirely on the same page, focused on winning, and ready to play with anyone. For that brief run, they were the Celtics again.
Of course, it didn't last very long, and there's no rhyme or reason as to where and when those Celtics will re-emerge. But the knowledge that somewhere, deep down, those Celtics still exist, should be enough to have any potential playoff opponent wishing they were matched with someone else.
4. The Question
Why does it still take something like Teague's dunk to kick the Celtics into gear?
Is there not enough urgency already?
What will it take for this team to feel like they need to come out and give a complete effort every single night, regardless of what the other team is doing?
OK, that was three questions.
5. The Nobody
By my count, last night Jeff Teague became the third "nobody" of Kevin Garnett's time in Boston.
First, there was Charlie Villanueva, who KG called a "nobody" at the tail end of the cancer patient saga. Shortly after that, "nobody" was Joakim Noah (after he called KG "a very mean guy" on the radio). Then, last night, Garnett was asked about Teague's dunk and ensuing celebration: "I don't know who you talking about," Garnett said. "That guy's a nobody."
When the quote first came out, I was a little embarrassed for Garnett.
I was thinking, "Really? This again? You know very well who Teague is: He's the starting point guard on a playoff team in your conference. About a half hour ago, you had a pretty sweet view of the back of his jersey as he was leaving you in the dust. Enough with pretending you don't know guys. Or how about coming up with another line?"
But the more I thought about the situation, I understand where he's coming from.
First of all, it's not like KG started his interview by declaring Teague a nobody. He was asked about a play in which a much younger, less-accomplished player disrespected Garnett and his teammates in front of the basketball world (and a handful of Hawks fans). What's he going to say?
Also, if we're being realistic, who is Jeff Teague to Kevin Garnett? I mean, to basketball fans, Teague is a young, confident point guard with a lot of promise, but how many guys like that has KG seen come in and out of this league over the last 17 years? In the mind of one of the greatest basketball players who ever lived, who's this cocky, big shot point guard who's barely played 150 games in an uneven NBA career? He's a nobody. At this point in KG's career, he's got no time for guys like Jeff Teague. Not until he's got more than a few good months and a dunk on his resume.
Until then, KG has more important things on his mind.
For instance, how to make the most of his likely last two months in a Celtics uniform.