For all the success and happiness that Boston experienced during our run of seven championships over 10 years (which already feels like 100 years ago), there was one negative aftereffect that still lingers to this day: We dont care as much about the regular season.
In so many ways, thats understandable. After all, over that decade of dominance, we pretty much saw everything. We saw teams cruise through the first 16, 82 or 100-something games and then choke when it mattered most. We saw teams sleepwalk through the regular season, and become heroes when it was all on the line. We saw mediocre teams have legendary postseasons. We saw mediocre teams have despicable postseasons. We saw mediocre teams have mediocre postseasons. But either way, the general takeaway was this:
The regular season is kind of . . . blah.
Its a mindset thats typically most pressing at this time of year late-January or early February when the Patriots are recently finished, the Red Sox are barely a twinkle in our eye, and all we have are the Bruins and Celtics, not even at the mid-way point of their seasons, winning and losing games that weve already convinced ourselves wont matter once the real season gets under way.
In sense, thats a good thing. Its given us a healthier perspective on sports and life. In general, it's helped make us sane. Temporarily, at least. But in another sense, where's the fun in that? What's the point of investing so much time and energy into a team when you spend the first few months shrugging your shoulders at every turn: "Eh, it's only January. It doesn't matter."
But while our instincts still err on the side of regular season insignificance, with every passing championshipless year, you can feel tides starting to turn. Combine that with a few extenuating circumstances, and in 2013, we're faced with what will likely be the most telling winter season in recent memory.
First of all, the Bruins just started. They've only got 48 games now, 46 games to make a statement, become a team and prove themselves worthy of all the preseason hype.
The Celtics are 40 games into their season, with 42 left, but find themselves in the exact same place. Their season may as well start now.
Of course, we've seen this before with the C's. They're probably the biggest reason the regular season has such a bum rap around here to begin with. But in the past, there was a least a broader body of previous work. A stretch of time when the Celtics flexed their muscles against the NBA's best, and showed that somewhere underneath all the apathy, their potential is real.
You can argue that this year's team delivered that with three straight wins over Indiana, New York and Atlanta. You can argue, once again, that their recent struggles have coincided with another Avery Bradley injury, and that once he's healthy, everything will be fine.
But you listen to Doc Rivers who believe it or not, has much firmer grasp than you or I on where this team headed and fine is the last thing that comes to mind. Doc's about ready to blow a gasket. Not to mention, the old "just wait until the playoffs" mantra doesn't have the same ring with the C's currently in line for a first round match-up with Miami.
But whatever, even with all the urgency and panic (at least with the C's) surrounding Boston's two winter teams, we still can't completely shake the lessons learned over a decade's worth of success. Even if the playoffs started today, and the Celtics did have to play the Heat, could you ever count them out?
I mean, obviously some people would. I'm sure Shaughnessy would deliver another predictable and thoughtless column, and all the experts would pick the Heat (with good reason), but no one in their right mind would say that Boston's regular-season struggles eliminates them from having postseason success. We all know how much things can change.
But for once, it might be nice to not have to count on that.
To see the B's and C's undergo a winter to remember, and provide actual evidence for optimism heading into the real season. Instead of just forcing us to fall back on recent history and blind faith.