Celtics' hard play spoils tank talk

Celtics' hard play spoils tank talk
March 20, 2014, 9:45 pm
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NEW YORK — One of the many player-isms you hear spouted from time to time is that every game is one that both teams want to win with equal vigor.

It comes down to execution: one team willing to do it while the other team becomes, you know, executed.

But let's keep it real.

That ain't true.

You can't tell me or anyone who has watched the NBA this season that the Philadelphia 76ers are trying to win just as badly as say the Phoenix Suns or the Chicago Bulls, or the Memphis Grizzlies, or the Los Angeles Clippers or . . . you get the picture.

And then you have games such as Friday night's between Boston and the Brooklyn Nets, a game the Nets should win.

They know this.

So do the Celtics.

Still, this Boston crew isn't your run-of-the-mill, headed-to-the-lottery lot.

They know they don't have the weapons most teams do. They have fully embraced who they are - a team that's not good enough to beat the best consistently, but not bad enough to get beat down with regularity.

And that is why games such as the one in Brooklyn will once again take Green Teamers on an emotional roller coaster.

A trip to the playoffs isn't in their future this season, so winning games doesn't do the Celtics (23-46) a whole lot of good.

And yet they are locked and loaded to do all they can to play the role of spoiler for each and every playoff-bound squad that's still on the schedule.

Even without LeBron James on Wednesday night, the Heat had enough talent to win that game. Still, they made the fatal mistake that teams with dreams of a deep postseason berth fall prey to when facing a season-long struggler like Boston.

They allowed the Celtics to hang around, gain momentum and -- just like that -- Miami found itself on the short end of a 101-96 score.

Naturally, Miami players were a dejected bunch after the loss, something Brooklyn can relate to.

The Nets came to the TD Garden on March 7 looking to build off their strong play since the turn of the calendar. Instead, they built up a deficit that proved to be too much for them to overcome as Boston handed them a 91-84 loss.

Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk had 13 points off the bench in that March 7 victory. He recognizes how important this game is to a Brooklyn team whose record may only be 35-31 but who trail the Chicago Bulls by just two games for the fourth seed in the East and, with that spot, home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"They're a great squad that's looking for some momentum," Olynyk said of the Nets. "Hopefully we can ride [beating Miami] into that and create some momentum of our own."

This is so not what a team needing as many ping-pong balls in the lottery should be doing!

But this where the Celtics remind all of us that they are the Celtics.

As much as they embrace who they are and who they aren't, these C's play hard, play with pride. They play like . . . Celtics.

That's why all this losing has been such a tough pill to swallow, especially for veterans such as Brandon Bass.

After Rajon Rondo, Bass is the longest-tenured Celtic with 209 regular-season appearances, along with another 26 playoff games in Boston.

Bass has come to understand how important tradition is to this franchise.

And with that comes expectations, even when all indications are that success - at least for this season - cannot and should not be measured by wins and losses.

But it is; always has been and always will be around these parts.

Bass wouldn't want it any other way.

"The culture here is about winning and winning championships," Bass said. "So [the losing] it's tough on us but all we can do is try to get better each and every day."

And in doing that, play the role of spoiler from time to time.

The reason is clear: that's what being a Celtic is about.

No one said it better or as succinct as the late Red Auerbach told Esquire Magazine in 2000.

"If you're keeping score," Auerbach said, "win."