Making sense of the Celtics

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Making sense of the Celtics

OK, so Ive finally figured it out.

After five months, 77 games and nearly 4,000 minutes of watching this Celtics team, everything makes sense. I understand how theyve overcome the obstacles. I can explain their defiance of basic chemistry, logic and basketball mortality. Ive pinpointed the source of this perfect storm thats swept through the East and dropped Boston one win short of the Conference Finals.

Youre going to laugh when I tell you, because its really so simple. Its been right in front of us all along. Glistening like KGs head in the midst of a healthy fourth quarter sweat.

You ready? Here it goes. It all comes down this . . .

. . . Eh, crap. Who am I kidding?

To be honest, I was hoping that if I kept typing, the answer would just reveal itself. That the borderline insanity which results from staring at a blank Microsoft Word Document for hours on end would throw me into an out of body NBA Nirvana where Id suddenly find myself floating between the synapses of Rajon Rondos brain, swimming through the arteries in KGs heart or sitting comfortably on the tip of Brandon Bass trigger finger. Where I could stop looking for answers and let the answers find me . . . then share them with the world.

Instead, Im still here. Sitting in an almost-empty TD Garden, with Diet Coke No. 7 on its way down and more questions marks in my head than in a biography of King Hippo.

The Celtics are one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals.

How did this happen?

The craziest part is that, in its simplest form, everything makes perfect sense. The Celtics were a better team than the Hawks, and should have won that series. The Celtics are a better team than the Sixers, and should be up (at least) 3-2 in this series. In that sense, by reaching this point, the Celtics have done nothing but meet our most basic expectations. Theyre one win away from the Conference Finals? OK, well they should be. But of course, its not that easy. Because by reaching this point, the Celtics have simultaneously achieved more than we ever could have imagined.

Its like were living in two worlds with two very different sets of standards. One is the present, where everything fell into place. Where the Hawks were hurt, the Bulls didnt exist, the Heat are highly combustible and you can look at yourself in the mirror and say with a straight face: The Celtics have a legitimate chance to make the NBA Finals. In this beautiful, messed up world, weve once again grown to expect greatness from this team. Its real. But it only exists in the shadow of the entire season one that was spent tempering expectations and talking ourselves down from the championship ledge.

For four months, the season was more a matter of getting nostalgic about the past and obsessing about the future than it was making any grand plans for the present. Wed made peace with the end of the Big 3 era and just hoped they werent embarrassed too badly as Chicago or Miami ushered them out to NBA pasture. But now, here they are: One win from the Eastern Conference Finals, with a would-be daunting but still winnable match-up standing between them and the NBA Finals. Its at the same time believable, yet so hard to believe. And its left Celtics fans in a whacky kind of limbo.

Who is this team? Are they a scrappy bunch of never-say-die overachievers? Should we just be happy that theyve made it this far, and cherish every second of their waning time together?

Or do we flip the switch back to last season and the three years before that? Do we go back to treating them like champions, and settling for nothing less than the best?

The Celtics certainly haven't helped our indecision. Every night (save for Game 4 against the Hawks, and Game 3 against the Sixers) we've seen both worlds play out before us. We've see the Celtics who are lucky to be alive, and don't have a shot at the next level. We've see the Celtics who can hang with anyone in the East, and maybe, just maybe, could give the Spurs or Thunder a run for their money. And there's no rhyme or reason to when the respective identities will reveal themselves. Sometimes they're perfect early, like in Game 4 against Philly before blowing an 18-point lead for only the second time in 137 Big 3 Era opportunities. Sometimes they come out in a coma, like in Game 5 against Philly before Brandon Bass explodes for 18 points in the third quarter as many points as he'd scored in any FULL GAME in more than a month in an inspiring comeback win.

Take a look at these last 11 playoff games seven wins, four losses and try to find a pattern. There is none.

They've won a game on the road without Rondo. Theyve won a game in which they blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead to a team that was short their two best players. Theyve won a game in which they scored 36 points in the second half. Theyve won a game in which they shot 2-18 from three-point land. And those are the wins! The losses were so much worse, and make the whole ordeal so unbelievably confusing.

The Celtics are like George Costanza trying to prove that he saw Jerry's girlfriend making out with his cousin. They're eating onions. They're spotting dimes. We don't know what the hell is going on! We dont know when Kevin Garnett will come out looking like its 2008 or 2018. We don't know when Paul Pierce's knee will render him ineffective or when he's going to drop back-to-back monster dunks on the entire Philly defense. We don't know when Rondo's going to be Rondo, the best player by far on the court, or when he'll lurk in the background, like a No. 9 decal that's been painted onto to the parquet.

Doc Rivers doesn't know either. Here he was last night, when asked about the Celtics schizophrenic halves: "You know, sometimes just a game, emotionally, you just as a coach, you really dont you dont know sometimes. And I dont know what was we werent right in the first half. You could just feel it. I thought Philly was playing well, was one of them. But we just, it was funny, you could see all our guys; they were looking at each other every time someone made a shot. And it just wasnt the I dont know, I dont want to get corny, but it was like the Celtic spirit, it wasnt there."

And that's there coach! The guy who knows them better than anyone in the world. If he's stumbling through the answer like that, what chance do we have? Why even bother?

And I don't know, maybe that is the answer. Maybe the secret to following this totally unbelievable yet somehow entirely plausible run to within one very winnable game whether it's tomorrow in Philly or Saturday at the Garden of the Conference Finals is to just let go. To take it from Talking Heads and Stop Making Sense. Because really, there is no sense. These playoffs are like one long episode of MTV Diary: We think we know, but we have no idea.

Maybe we'll never figure it out. And that's difficult to accept in any situation. To come to grips with the fact that you just don't know or can't understand something that should be so easy. After all, it's basketball. It's a crew that we've watched longer, and should know better than any team in Boston. But at this point, it's clear that we don't. We're familiar with their highs, well aware of their lows, but the when and where of how those will play out is completely beyond our comprehension. We can't get in Rondo's head, or understand KG's heart or know what makes the difference between Brandon Bass last night and the guy we watched for the better part of the last month.

All we can do is continue to straddle the line between "happy to be here" and "Finals or bust." To never lose sight of the fact that this is their last run together, and that every minute should be cherished, but also, that it would be disrespectful to the team and everything they've accomplished to hold them to anything but the highest standard.

To ride out this perfect storm and just hope the winds keep blowing in the Celtics favor.

It's not much, but it's all we've got.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Blakely: Celtics not as feared as they were last season

Blakely: Celtics not as feared as they were last season

BOSTON -- On more than one occasion Monday night, the Boston Celtics were a discombobulated bunch with some players thinking they were running one play, while others were thinking the play called was something totally different.
 
You see that stuff in the preseason and to a certain extent in the regular season for a lot of teams. It is in those moments that we’re reminded that this Boston Celtics team is a work in progress on so many levels.
 
Because of that, we all need to hit the pause button when talking about them as a team inching closer towards Eastern Conference supremacy.
 
After the first month of the season, they have yet to show that they are going to be better than last season’s 48-win ball club.
 
The big problem a year ago was the offense bogging down and for the most part, not making shots. This year, it’s the team’s defense that has let them down on many nights.
 
And with that comes a sobering reminder this crew is good, but at best are maybe top-five in the East.
 
As a team on the rise, beating teams you’re not supposed to has to happen with some semblance of regularity.
 
There were only three teams on the Celtics’ docket this season thus far that they should have been beaten by without there being any argument: Golden State, San Antonio and Cleveland.
 
They were beaten in all three, two of which (Golden State and Cleveland) had final scores that did not indicate the level of dominance they had over the Celtics.
 
The average margin of defeat in the three games was 9.3 points, but two of them (San Antonio and Golden State) were at the TD Garden, which is supposed to be the equalizer for upset-minded teams.
 
But in each game, Boston put up a decent fight only to fail to emerge victorious.
 
The struggles against the upper echelon teams of the NBA has nothing to do with not having a superstar or a great rebounder or any of the kazillion reasons/excuses offered up as to why they’re not better.
 
It’s hunger.
 
It’s effort.
 
It’s about being blinded by the internet clicks that tout them as one of the best teams in the East, and them not seeing the danger that comes with embracing all that patting on the back.
 
It makes you soft.
 
It makes you fat and happy.
 
And maybe most significant, it creates a false sense of arrival before you’ve left the tarmac.
 
That’s where the Boston Celtics are right now: a team that seems to have forgotten why they were the team nobody wanted to play last year.
 
It wasn’t that teams feared playing them. It was the fact that they knew playing the Celtics would be tough, and it would force them to play a lot closer to their full potential than they were used to if they wanted to win.
 
It was because everyone knew that to beat the Celtics, you don’t have a choice but to play hard because you damn well knew they would.
 
Not anymore.
 
They bring that toughness to the game in small doses, like an intra-venous drip full of hope and promise, providing just enough to life to keep their fans optimistic but not nearly enough to kill the noise of their haters and critics.
 
And while the season is still young, the Celtics need to start racking up some quality wins.
 
Right now, their most impressive win is a toss-up between beating Charlotte 104-98 on Oct. 29, or a 94-92 win at Detroit on Nov. 19.
 
Boston plays at Orlando on Wednesday, a team that’s likely to be back in the lottery again. But after that, they travel back to Boston where they’ll host Toronto -- a game that they desperately need to not only to pad their win total but also provide a much-needed boost of energy and confidence going forward.

The Celtics have to find that hunger, that collective desire that we’ve seen in the past which has propelled them to greater heights than we’ve seen thus far.
 
Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford… you can go down the roster and the mission for all of them has to be the same: play harder, for longer, and be smarter about it, because this team has too much collective talent to be just three games above .500.
 
At 12-9, Boston is third in the East and trail conference-leading Cleveland by three games for the best record in the conference. But then you look at the teams behind the Celtics and realize that they’re only two games out of having the ninth-best record in the East.
 
It speaks in part to the season still being in its infancy stage. But it’s also telling as to how Boston does not have a huge margin of error when it comes to losing winnable games.
 
And as we’ve seen thus far, the Celtics can play with any team in the NBA and hold their own.
 
But beating them is a totally different narrative that this squad has yet to write.