They'll flip the switch, but will the lights go on?


They'll flip the switch, but will the lights go on?

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.

Trust me.

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.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

TORONTO – It’s far too soon to say if the Celtics’ decision to stand pat at the trade deadline was a mistake.
But the early returns aren’t encouraging.
Their 107-97 loss Friday night to the Toronto Raptors wasn’t because of Kyle Lowry (right wrist), who didn’t even play, or DeMar DeRozan, who played out his mind while scoring a career-high 43 points.
The game will be remembered by the new guys Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, both acquired at the trade deadline by the Raptors.
Ibaka, who was a bad fit, and on most nights a bad player, in Orlando, looked like the O-K-C Ibaka while scoring 15 points to go with seven rebounds against the Celtics – numbers that were better than his two games combined against the Celtics this season with the Magic when he scored a total of just 12 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
And then there was Tucker, who got a crash video course on Raptors playbook just hours before the game, and proceeded to show the kind of toughness at both ends of the floor that has made him one of the league’s more underrated defenders as he finished with a near double-double of nine points and 10 rebounds.
It was their first game with their new team, but you would have thought they had been with Toronto all season long with how seamless they seemed to fit in.
Ibaka draining jumpers, Tucker causing chaos defensively, while absolutely crushing the Celtics on the boards...their play was a painful reminder of what could have been for the Green team.
Both were rumored to have been in the Celtics’ crosshairs prior to the Thursday 3 p.m. trade deadline. The Celtics were lukewarm at best on Ibaka (they didn’t want what would have been a 25-game rental) and just couldn’t quite strike a deal and cross the finish line for Tucker.
It’s too soon to hit the panic button and rip Danny Ainge for not getting a minor deal done like adding Tucker or Ibaka.
Still, his players have to embrace the truth behind what transpired this trade season.
Ainge went big-game hunting, focusing most of the team's efforts on landing a major difference-maker, a la Jimmy Butler or Paul George.
When that didn’t work out, he settled for the next best thing, which was to keep this group together.
The onus is now on them to prove that trust Ainge has in them, was well-placed.
Putting too much stock in the first game after the break is a risky proposition that no one should subscribe to.
But in the loss, it revealed many of the concerns and weaknesses of this roster that tend to get magnified in defeat while glossed over when they manage to win despite those flaws.
Isaiah Thomas may be the best scorer in the fourth quarter, but he’s human.
There will be games when Mr. Fourth Quarter can’t get it done.
Friday night was that kind of game for him. He scored just four of his team-high 20 points in the fourth.
And as the Raptors blitzed him repeatedly with two and three defenders, his teammates failed to step up when the opportunity was there to make impactful, game-altering plays down the stretch.
Watching the Celtics’ defense in the second half was painful.
DeRozan got whatever he wanted, when he wanted it.
And when he missed, the Raptors controlled the boards, got all the 50/50 balls and repeatedly out-worked Boston.
It exposed Boston in a way that’s painful to see, especially when those inflicting the greatest amount of damage could have been in the Celtics huddle and not the one on the other sideline.

Hardy: 'Celtics haven't reached that next level status'

Hardy: 'Celtics haven't reached that next level status'

Greg Hardy, Chris Mannix, and Glenn Ordway discuss what the Celtics should have done before the trade deadline, and what they need to do in the offseason in order to reach the next level in playoffs.