LOS ANGELES For the first half of the first game of the second half of their season, the Celtics looked like that team.
You know that team. You love that team.
Early on, Boston pushed the ball last night in Denver. They moved the ball. They helped each other, trusted each other and were unselfish almost to a fault. They built a nine-point, second-quarter lead on the heavily-favored Nuggets, and as usual, it was beautiful.
But it didn't stick. Before long, Denver's younger, larger, deeper and more athletic roster wore down the Celtics attack. The Nuggets cut the lead to one by halftime, led by eight after three, and fought off a late Celtics comeback to pick up a 97-90 revenge victory.
And to that I say: Oh well.
What are you going do to?
On one hand, yeah this is a game the Celtics could have won. I mean, the score was tied with five minutes left, of course they could have won. Maybe even should have won. But before we get too bent out of shape, it's worth remembering that the Nuggets are a damn good team.
Despite their earlier loss to the Boston and their three straight losses overall the Nuggets are 34-21. They're the fifth seed in the West, but they'd have the second best record in the East. And last night, they were playing in front of their always impressive crowd, which was particularly rabid thanks to the losing streak and the fact that this was Denver's first home game since February 7.
It probably sounds like I'm making excuses for the Celtics here, and I probably I am, but they were nine-point underdogs last night. The Nuggets are 22-3 at home! A loss sucks, but it's still OK. To be honest, I'm just happy that Boston put themselves in a position to win at all. That unlike what we saw for most of the first few months they're in a position to win every game. That it appears they're done taking nights off and always ready to bring it, regardless of the opponent andor size of the TV viewing audience.
I don't want to congratulate them for this turn around, because "that's what you're supposed to do!" it's just good to see that maximum effort is once again a steady attribute of Boston Celtics basketball.
But in the NBA, sometimes effort doesn't matter. Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where the other team is just better. Sometimes your best isn't good enough.
And sometimes you play the Lakers.
Truth be told, the deck is once again stacked against the Celtics tonight in LA where they're currently seven point underdogs. This is Kobe and friends' first home game since the break, but more importantly, it's their first home game since the death of Dr. Jerry Buss. There are going to be a ton of emotions running through the Staples Center and and not to trivialize things they're all going to be running against the Celtics.
Still, this is is the game the Celtics can win. A game they should win. And with the trade deadline just about 24 hours away, you wonder how much the outcome of tonight's game might shape Boston's short and long-term future.
You throw in the Dwight drama, the urgency on both sides, the general insanity of the Celtics-Lakers and that slight chance that this is the last time we see either Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in Green and . . .
Things might get a little crazy.
I'll be at Staples Center, covering the game with A. Sherrod Blakely.
Hope that team will be there, too.