Making sense of the Celtics

Making sense of the Celtics
May 22, 2012, 3:25 pm
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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