If the Celtics were any other team, fans might have already thrown in the towel. After all, between injuries, the Heat and a few depressing truths about age, there are currently plenty of excuses to just say “screw it” and let go of the expectation that Boston can still make something of this season.
What is “something”?
Something is a championship. Of course it’s a championship. It might be a long shot, but for Celtics fans, it’s still the dream. Why else would it matter where Boston finishes in the standings? Why else would you care about avoiding Miami? You wouldn’t. It’s all about the slim hope that the Celtics can somehow shock the world. And like I said, with just about any other team, that hope would be long gone.
But that’s not how it works in the age of Kevin Garnett. For better or worse, after the events of last year and 2010, it’s impossible to write off the Celtics. They’ve conditioned Boston to believe. As a result, even without Rondo, there’s lingering faith that as long as Paul Pierce and KG are healthy, the Celtics have a shot. Even if it’s only a small one.
And now, a brief intermission.
If the Celtics were any other team, fans might hear the latest update on Kevin Garnett’s health and brush it off as nothing. Well, maybe not “nothing,” but the news wouldn’t be met with such a heavy layer of skepticism. After all, it’s just a little ankle inflammation! The MRI didn’t show anything “overly alarming.” Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers aren’t worried. There’s nothing to see here!
But unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
The same way that 2010 and 2012 conditioned Boston to believe, 2009 (KG’s knee) and 2011 (Shaq’s calf) conditioned fans to question any and all injury news that comes out of the Celtics camp. You can’t help it. Especially around the playoffs. Especially with a timeline that plays out like this:
SATURDAY, MARCH 16: Doc Rivers announces that Garnett will miss that night’s game against the Bobcats. It’s the first time all season that he’ll sit out for a reason other than “rest”.
He’s later diagnosed with a strained abductor (aka groin stuff) in his left leg.
SUNDAY, MARCH 17: Garnett doesn’t practice, and Doc labels him 50/50 for the next day’s game against the Heat.
MONDAY, MARCH 18: Garnett isn’t present at shoot around, only adding to the speculation that he’ll miss the (latest) most important game of the regular season, which also happens to come against Boston’s most bitter rival.
Garnett arrives at the Garden early that night; earlier enough to suggest that he might give it a go. This made sense because this was the Heat. You’d need an entire vat of hippo tranquilizer to keep Garnett off the court for that one . . .
Then he got the flu.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 20: Garnett plays 29 minutes, including the ENTIRE fourth quarter in a horrible loss to the Hornets. He finished with 20 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals.
FRIDAY, MARCH 22: Garnett plays 29 minutes, and puts up 16 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in a frustrating loss to the Mavericks. There are no obvious signs of injury on KG’s part, but there’s reason to believe that he wasn’t all there.
"I just thought we got lost a lot tonight on defense," Rivers said. "We gave up a 30-point quarter, which we don’t do."
SATURDAY, MARCH 23: KG’s out against Memphis, this time with an ankle. Doc’s not exactly sure how or when it happened, but does know that KG will undergo an MRI when the team gets back to Boston.
SUNDAY, MARCH 24: The team gets back to Boston. The Celtics don’t practice. Cedric Maxwell goes on TV and says that he saw Garnett limping towards the team bus in boot, and that he was “very concerned” about the extent of the injury.
MONDAY, MARCH 25: The MRI results are in and while there’s still some confusion over when the injury actually occurred (Ainge thinks it was against New Orleans; Rivers says Dallas.) the consensus is that everything is going to be OK. Just a sprained ankle. Just some inflammation. In fact, Garnett could play tonight against the Knicks if really had to. But just to be safe, they’re shutting him down for two weeks. At least.
TUESDAY, MARCH 26: That’s today, and this morning on Toucher & Rich, Mike Gorman, who’s generally very optimistic when it comes to the Celtics, was the exact opposite when asked about Garnett’s status:
“I’m concerned,” he said. “I was concerned the other night on the air when everyone on the Celtics staff kept referring to it as a foot injury as opposed to a sprained ankle. A sprained ankle I could live with; a foot injury is scary.”
It just sounds so familiar. The vagaries in the diagnosis. The inconsistency of reports. We’ve been here before. You know this story isn’t going away.
And that brings us to right . . . now, and the merging of these two almost-involuntary Celtics instincts: The belief that anything’s possible vs. the fear that there’s more than meets the eye with a potentially significant injury.
In both cases, it’s just speculation. In reality, it may not be entirely fair to still hold the players to such lofty expectations, in the same way it’s not fair to hold the coach and front office at anything less than their word. But that’s where the last six years have left us. That’s just the way it is.
And as a result, until KG’s back on the floor, concerns and questions over that foot will put this season’s already slim hopes on hold.