By Rich Levine
Before we can make a legitimate guess on how the next two months will play out for the Celtics, there are two questions we need to consider.
The first ones easy, so lets just get it out of the way.
Can the Celtics flip the switch?
The answer is yes. A big, fat Shaq-sized YES.
Heartbreak over departed teammates? Stress over impending free agency? General frustration over whos doing what, when and where?
When the ball goes up in Game One, all the baggage of the last six weeks will be sorted and neatly stowed away in Waltham and Boston will once again be a team that only cares about team.
Theyll be playing with the same level of desire and intensity that we saw a few months back. Theyll be angry and focused. It might not be Ubuntu but . . . I dont know, is there a Serbian translation for Ubuntu? Lets call it that.
Whatever it is, it will be there.
I think the problem is that sometimes we expect these guys to play the entire 82-game season in a vacuum. Like nothing from the outside world, or even somewhere as close as the locker room, should ever affect what happens on the court.
And thats probably unfair.
Have you ever been in a funk at work? Mad your boss? Pissed off about how much your getting paid or how youre being treated? Maybe its the way theyre treating one of your friends and co-workers? Or maybe its a co-worker whos got you so mad in the first place?
It happens to everyone. No matter what you do or how much you make.
You can drive yourself crazy with that stuff, too. It can take you off your game. It can definitely affect your production. But eventually, something snaps you out of it. Something, whatever it is, comes along and gives you the strength and motivation to get on with your life, and go back to being you.
And then you move on.
Obviously, its one thing for a single person to overcome that adversity, and another when youre dealing with an entire roster of ultra competitive multi-millionaires.
But the playoffs are the universal wake-up call.
Especially in that locker room.
They know how much is on the line here: Careers, legacies, history. This is bigger than anything theyve gone through this season. Yeah, maybe this year didnt play out exactly how they imagined, but now theyre in the playoffswhere excuses go to die.
Theyll figure it out. Lets not forget who were dealing with
Kevin Garnett. Paul Pierce. Ray Allen. Doc Rivers.
On Sunday, the Celtics will flip that switch, find that focus and cohesion, and give you their absolute best.
In the words of Marquis Daniels: Beleedat.
Which, finally, brings us to question No. 2 . . .
Once that switch flips, will there be enough watts in the bulb?
When you move beyond the emotional drama, and get down to the bare bones of the next two months, ultimately thats the question: Even at their best, are the Celtics good enough to be the best?
And were not talking about an ideal world, where Shaqs healthy, Jeff Greens James Posey and Troy Murphys Troy Murphy. This is real life. Where Shaqs a huge a question mark, Jeff Greens still working on Jeff Green and Troy Murphys a downgrade from Mikki Moore. Where Miamis playing a little better, Chicagos playing a lot better, both teams have home-court advantage and the match-ups, especially with Chicagotheir defense, depth, MVP and powerful front courtlook more terrifying by the day.
Can Boston still do it? Is it possible?
Yeah, of course. It doesn't look great, but well never say impossible. Not with this group.
Regardless of any and all issues, or how long and devastating the road appears, well never completely write them off. Even if Doc Rivers swears that this time is so much different, the team doesnt sound nearly as confident (publicly, at least), and the competition looks far more imposing.
Theres enough to still believe, or just hope that these guys can reach down deep, defy the odds and become last years team.
And its kind of crazy how that all worked out.
There was a time not so long ago when all we used to talk about was how these guys were nothing like last years team.
For most of this season, that was pretty much the best way to describe the Celtics. And as far as the team was concerned, there was no greater compliment.
Over the course of the summer, theyd been haunted by nightmares of the previous regular season, and the memory of walking off the Staples Center floor, yellow and purple confetti everywhere. And from the moment they arrived at Media Day back in September, the Celtics tried like hell to exorcise those memories, and that culture, from the locker room.
They overstressed the importance of regular season. They convinced themselves that home court was to blame for their Game Seven collapse. They doused an old pair of Rasheed Wallaces sweatpants in gasoline and sacrificed them to the NBA Gods.
Fine, maybe one of those things didnt happen, but whatever. The Celtics did do, it worked. You watched this team play over those first few months, and couldnt help but make the comparison. Or more, the distinction
Theyd fall behind early to a crappy team, fight into the fourth and pull it out in the end: No way they wouldve won this game last year.
Theyd lose one or even two games in a row and respond with four, five or at one point 14 straight wins: You see, last years team would have gone in the tank!
No matter what, it was always different than last year, and the Celtics were always better for it.
Last year was their biggest fear.
Today it feels like a dream.
But over the next two months, it needs to become their reality.
It all starts to play out on Sunday, when the Celtics will officially flip that switch, and just hope it burns bright enough for another historic run. This time, with an extra 20 minutes left in reserve.