Rivalries Gone Wild

Rivalries Gone Wild
March 28, 2013, 2:30 pm
Share This Post

Every time the Bruins and Canadiens get together I end up writing about rivalries because that’s what Bruins/Canadiens is all about. It’s the best kind of rivalry, too. A REAL, permanent, our-grandparents-hated-each-other-and-our-grandchildren-will-hate-each-other situation. And while hate is rarely beautiful, Bruins/Canadiens is an exception. There’s a weird satisfaction in knowing that somewhere 500 years in the future, Montreal and Boston are still at each other’s throats (and most likely with the aid of highly sophisticated robots).

Coincidently, the opposite of Bruins/Canadiens was also on display last night:

Celtics vs. Cavs.

Man, remember that? It wasn’t too long ago that this was one of the most heated rivalries in Boston. The premier match-up in the entire NBA. Over my two years covering the Celtics (2009-2011), I spent more time in Cleveland than any other city (jealous?) and every trip was a spectacle. For the Celtics and their fans, The Q was and is the source of so many memories and games highlighted by an intensity that could easily match what unfolded last night on the Garden ice. Back then, simultaneous editions of Celtics/Cavs and Bruins/Canadiens would have qualified as the best sports night of the year.

But last night, clicking back and forth between the two games was a strange, almost manic experience. Like washing down a bunch of Adderall with a bottle of NyQuil. Or watching a video of two lions fighting to the death, edited with brief clips of two snails napping on a rock. And amidst the sheer awesomeness of Bruins/Canadiens, the truth about the artist formerly known as Celtics/Cavs was reinforced a million times over.

It was never a REAL rivalry. Or if anything, it was just mislabeled.

While the Bruins and Habs will exchange blows for eternity, fueled solely by the jerseys on their backs, Celtics/Cavs was never about the jerseys, but instead, the players who wore them. In this case, one player.

As time goes on, memories from those classic battles at the Q (opening night in 2009, two insane playoff series) will never fade, but they won’t be remembered from the perspective of Cleveland vs. Boston. It was never about Cleveland vs. Boston. Instead, it was and will always be the early days of the Celtics vs. LeBron. The first couple chapters in a real, and truly historic sports rivalry. One that’s still alive and well, and was ALSO on display last night.

To be honest, from a Celtics perspective, I was rooting for the Heat to beat the Bulls. I not only wanted Miami to extend the streak, but to keep extending it right on past 33 games and through the rest of the regular season. I wanted losing to become such a foreign concept, that they’d forget that it was even possible. Basically, I wanted them to become the 2007 Patriots and walk into a first round series with eighth-seeded Boston, wary from the season-long circus and three months removed from any type of adversity. I thought that might have been the Celtics best chance.

On the other hand, you can argue that last night’s loss will present its own set of challenges. Slightly lost in the drama of Miami’s streak is the fact that it’s not even April, and they’ve already clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference. And while they’re still in a fight to earn potential home court advantage in the Finals, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Miami start to scale back a little. If not right away, then soon. After all, LeBron’s played a ton of minutes and he’s not quite as bionic (from a pure physical standpoint) as he used to be. Dwyane Wade is already suffering from an assortment of Dwyane Wade injuries, and will definitely need rest down the stretch. Meanwhile, Shane Battier and Birdman are both 34. Ray Allen’s creeping up on 38. Juwan Howard is 175 years old. Erik Spoelstra will have to make sure that all of them (OK, maybe not Juwan) are in the best physical condition to succeed come playoff times. But that comes with a risk. In this case, letting go of the championship intensity of the last two months. Because as you know, it’s never as easy to pick it back up.

Of course, there’s also a good chance that I’m delusional and last night’s loss will have zero effect on Miami’s seemingly inevitable run to a second consecutive title. But at the very least, it capped off a pretty great night for the Celtics. The C’s dramatic win in Cleveland, followed immediately by LeBron’s big loss in Chicago provided Celtics fans the best of both worlds, even if the Cavaliers involvement was a total coincidence.

But the Bruins weren’t so lucky.

While the Celtics turned the tables on a frustrating loss and emerged with an inspiring Jeff Green buzzer beater, the Bruins let one slip away. Another one. And to the one team — regardless of the season, standings or roster — against which losing burns more than any other. To make matters worse, the lone bright spot of the night — a series of reports confirming that Bruins had traded for Jarome Iginla — turned out to be nothing but another 2x4 in the face. Despite Calgary’s wishes, Iginla didn’t want to play for the Bruins. So they sent him to Pittsburgh.

In the matter of hours, Bruins fans went from a 5-3 in the third period against Canadiens, with first place on the line and an all-time great on his way into town, to nothing. Or just nothing but another late-game collapse. Another loss to Montreal. Maybe worst of all, another player who simply does’t want to play in Boston.

Iginla’s the second guy this week (Brenden Morrow was the other) to balk at a trade to the Bruins, and end up with the rival Penguins. In the short term, that obviously isn’t good because the B’s need help and can’t afford to have the competition get better. In the long term, it’s even more concerning, because why the hell don’t guys want to play for the Bruins? You could understand if this happened 10-15 years ago, back when Boston was barely on the NHL map, but now? With this team? When playing for the Bruins equals a decent shot at playing for the Stanley Cup?

Some of the blame has been placed on Jeremy Jacobs. Some think that his role in the lockout and generally sour reputation leaves Boston looking like a not-so-stellar option. And that could be true. In the case of Iginla and Morrow, it could also just be a matter of the Bruins losing out to the NHL’s LeBron. I mean, if given the choice, what player wouldn’t want to go join forces with Sydney Crosby?

Whatever the reason, it’s a problem that the Bruins need to straighten out, and quickly. After all, if you’re not a premium destination in professional sports, things can unravel pretty fast.

Just ask the Cavs.