Hold off on those Celtics obits just yet


Hold off on those Celtics obits just yet

By Rich Levine

MIAMI When a celebrity reaches a certain age, is diagnosed with a devastating disease or starts to live an especially reckless lifestyle, its common practice for news organizations to preemptively write an obituary.

Thinking back to the last few years of Bob Hopes life, there were a few different occasions when his obituary prematurely released to the public. When Elizabeth Taylor passed away last month, the man whose byline appeared on her obit had been dead for six years. On that note, I wouldnt be surprised if there are already a few Charlie Sheen drafts floating around newsrooms across the country.

You probably already knew that, but hey, Im trying to start a column here.

In a way, its a strange to know that these obituaries exist while the subjects are still alive, but I guess you cant fault anyone for thinking ahead. In a world where so much of what happens is entirely shocking and unexpected, its only natural, almost practical, to prepare for the inevitable. It helps with deadlines, eases stresses, even allows for a better product.

Not to mention its something we all do in our everyday lives, as well.

I used celebrities as an example, but it obviously goes much deeper than that with individuals, experiences and relationships that we hold far dearer than Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor or Charlie Sheen. Whether its a sick family member, a doomed relationship, a cross-country move or change in jobs, we spend a lot of time contemplating how circumstances of our present life might end, so that were not entirely blindsided when they do.

At times, that borders on pessimistic and unhealthy, but it does serve a purpose. You dont want harp on the negative, but youd also be careless to ignore its existence all together.

For all these reasons, both practical and emotional, weve spent the better part of the last four years preparing for the end of the Celtics' run among the NBAs elite.

From the moment they got together in the summer of 2007, through the immeasurable levels of optimism and excitement, there was always the recognition that it wouldnt last forever. At first, we gave them a three-year window. Eventually, that was extended to four, with plans laid for a fifth. But while the end was never set in stone, it was always well in sight. And before long, even through the immense success of that first season, those preemptive obituaries slowly began to take shape.

The 2008 championship may have actually expedited the process.

By winning in their first year, the Big Three era became an immediate and eternal success. This team wasnt assembled to only win one title, but after 22 years of nothing, one title was really all anybody needed. It immediately answered all the most important and terrifying questions: What if this doesnt work? What if they dont win? What if they never win? When they did, Boston was free to watch the rest of this cores time together without the fear that Danny Ainges historic experiment would come up short.

We were unbelievably fortunate for this. In fact, it empowered us. And because we never feared the end (not that we were ever looking forward to it) we always looked it right in the eye, and waited its imminent arrival.

In turn, that led to a whole bunch of premature obituaries.

The first ones leaked in the spring of 2009, after it became clear that Kevin Garnetts initially diagnosed two-or-three-week knee injury was far more severe. Will he ever be the same? In that case, will the Celtics? Might this already be the end? A second-round exit, and confusion over what really happened with KG, only increased the speculation.

The team fought off death for the first time that fall, thanks to the addition of Rasheed Wallace and the return of Garnett, but the Grim Reaper quickly resurfaced, as KG struggled to regain his swagger and the rest of the team limped around alongside him both physically and mentally. As they slept-walked through the season, there were serious talks of trading Ray Allen, and many fans had come to accept the possibility. Have they gone as far as they could together? Is it already time to reload? Are they better off without the Big 3?

It was by no means a consensus, but there were plenty of people ready to pull the trigger and send the obituary off to print. The Wizards will give up Jamison AND Butler!? Later, Ray! Its been real.

Ray stayed, but the struggles continued, and the Cs headed into the playoffs at an all-time low. Again, they were done. Again, they had nothing left. Again, it was OK, lets watch them get eliminated by the LeBron, bang out a new opening paragraph and bury these guys at sea . . .

Nope. Not yet.

The Celtics, of course, made one of the most inexplicable turnarounds in NBA history. One that, in retrospect, makes a lot more sense, but in the moment was more unlikely than Andrew Bynum getting an invite to Christmas at the Bareas.

Their legendary run came up 20 minutes short, but the Celtics proved once again, that they couldnt and shouldnt be counted out, no matter how dire the circumstances.

Yet, before the last piece of confetti even hit the Staples Center floor, the obits were back. There was talk of Docs departure, Allens free agency, Paul Pierces option and just the general feeling andor fear that theyd let their last chance slip away.

But not so fast!

Doc was back. Paul was back. Ray was back. They added Jermaine ONeal, Shaquille ONeal and Delonte West. Rondo was now an All-Star and on his way to being a superstar. Kevin Garnett was reinvigorated.

They addressed all the problems, and suddenly they were better equipped than ever before.

After the trade deadline, they were never worse.

They swept the Knicks . . . theyre alive!

They lost the first two in Miami dead!!!

Game 3 blowout . . . they have a chance.

Fourth quarter of Game 4 . . . Yes!

Overtime . . . No!

And here we are. The obituaries are all lined up and ready to go, and it feels like weve never been closer to actually hitting the send button . . .

Then again, weve felt that way so many times before.

Maybe its crazy to think they can pull it off, but maybe its just as crazy to count out a team thats proved you and everyone wrong so many times before.

Or maybe . . . I dont know.

All I know is that theres nothing unrealistic about believing, as long as you never actually lose sight of reality.

And weve never done that with this team.

Weve always been well aware that it can end at any second. Probably even a little more aware than we needed to be. Weve always known that their time atop the Eastern Conference would come to an end. That it would probably happen at the hands of LeBron (although we never imagined the lengths hed go to). That it would leave the Big Three looking old, tired, slow and worn down (although we never imagined Rondo would be in the worse shape of the four and Perk would be in OKC). That the loss would signal a time of serious flux and indecision within Celtics Nation.

And we know tonight could bring that upon us.

But we also know it wouldnt be the first time this team defied the odds on their own mortality and lives to see another day.

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

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

BOSTON -- There was a bomb threat to the Boston Celtics’ team plane to Oklahoma City on Saturday afternoon, but no one was injured.

The incident will be investigated by NBA security which will work in conjunction with the FBI on this matter which was one of several hoaxes called into airports across the country on Saturday.

News of the bomb threat was first known when Celtics forward Jae Crowder posted an Instagram photo showing players departing the plane with the caption, “BOMB THREAT ON US”.

Celtics officials declined to comment on the matter and instead referred all bomb threat-related questions to the league office.

Messages to the league office were not immediately returned.

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”