More than regular seasons

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More than regular seasons

For all the success and happiness that Boston experienced during our run of seven championships over 10 years (which already feels like 100 years ago), there was one negative aftereffect that still lingers to this day: We dont care as much about the regular season.

In so many ways, thats understandable. After all, over that decade of dominance, we pretty much saw everything. We saw teams cruise through the first 16, 82 or 100-something games and then choke when it mattered most. We saw teams sleepwalk through the regular season, and become heroes when it was all on the line. We saw mediocre teams have legendary postseasons. We saw mediocre teams have despicable postseasons. We saw mediocre teams have mediocre postseasons. But either way, the general takeaway was this:

The regular season is kind of . . . blah.

Its a mindset thats typically most pressing at this time of year late-January or early February when the Patriots are recently finished, the Red Sox are barely a twinkle in our eye, and all we have are the Bruins and Celtics, not even at the mid-way point of their seasons, winning and losing games that weve already convinced ourselves wont matter once the real season gets under way.

In sense, thats a good thing. Its given us a healthier perspective on sports and life. In general, it's helped make us sane. Temporarily, at least. But in another sense, where's the fun in that? What's the point of investing so much time and energy into a team when you spend the first few months shrugging your shoulders at every turn: "Eh, it's only January. It doesn't matter."

But while our instincts still err on the side of regular season insignificance, with every passing championshipless year, you can feel tides starting to turn. Combine that with a few extenuating circumstances, and in 2013, we're faced with what will likely be the most telling winter season in recent memory.

First of all, the Bruins just started. They've only got 48 games now, 46 games to make a statement, become a team and prove themselves worthy of all the preseason hype.

The Celtics are 40 games into their season, with 42 left, but find themselves in the exact same place. Their season may as well start now.

Of course, we've seen this before with the C's. They're probably the biggest reason the regular season has such a bum rap around here to begin with. But in the past, there was a least a broader body of previous work. A stretch of time when the Celtics flexed their muscles against the NBA's best, and showed that somewhere underneath all the apathy, their potential is real.

You can argue that this year's team delivered that with three straight wins over Indiana, New York and Atlanta. You can argue, once again, that their recent struggles have coincided with another Avery Bradley injury, and that once he's healthy, everything will be fine.

But you listen to Doc Rivers who believe it or not, has much firmer grasp than you or I on where this team headed and fine is the last thing that comes to mind. Doc's about ready to blow a gasket. Not to mention, the old "just wait until the playoffs" mantra doesn't have the same ring with the C's currently in line for a first round match-up with Miami.

But whatever, even with all the urgency and panic (at least with the C's) surrounding Boston's two winter teams, we still can't completely shake the lessons learned over a decade's worth of success. Even if the playoffs started today, and the Celtics did have to play the Heat, could you ever count them out?

I mean, obviously some people would. I'm sure Shaughnessy would deliver another predictable and thoughtless column, and all the experts would pick the Heat (with good reason), but no one in their right mind would say that Boston's regular-season struggles eliminates them from having postseason success. We all know how much things can change.

But for once, it might be nice to not have to count on that.

To see the B's and C's undergo a winter to remember, and provide actual evidence for optimism heading into the real season. Instead of just forcing us to fall back on recent history and blind faith.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Celtics-Cavs Game 4 preview: C's expect an aggressive LeBron

Celtics-Cavs Game 4 preview: C's expect an aggressive LeBron

CLEVELAND -- Marcus Smart made shots, Jonas Jerebko (10 points) outscored the entire Cleveland second unit by himself, and Kevin Love’s hot hand in the first half cooled off considerably in the second.

It was on so many levels the perfect storm for the Boston Celtics in Game 3 which ended with Avery Bradley getting a friendly bounce or two – OK, it was four bounces to be exact – that would be the difference in Boston’s 111-108 Game 3 win, which cut Cleveland’s lead in the best-of-seven series to 2-1.

But that perfect storm is now a thing of the past, which is why the Celtics are battening down the hatches for Hurricane James – LeBron James – in Game 4.

James scored just 11 points in Game 3 on 4-for-13 shooting.

Certainly, Boston’s defense had a role in James’ struggles.

But after looking to be a facilitator at the start of the game, James never flipped the switch to become a terminator.

So, as his teammates struggled with their shots in the second half, James didn’t ratchet up his aggression level to get buckets and in doing so, was just what the Celtics needed to get a much-needed victory.

Had Boston lost Game 3, this series being over would have been a mere formality with no team in NBA history has ever rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to advance to the next round of play.

But the Celtics are very much alive and well with a chance to even up the series at 2-2 with a victory tonight.

If they are to somehow find a way to beat the Cavs on their home floor a second straight game, it’ll most likely come after fending off a strong surge from James.

This season, James has been an offensive power following games in which he has scored less than 20 points in a game.

In the following game after he scores less than 20 points, James has averaged 27.8 points.

And his record in those games during the regular season was 10-3.

“He’s going to be aggressive,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “LeBron James understands how to play the game and he understands what his team needs from him. He’s most likely going to be a lot more aggressive. It’s our job to make sure we defend him as best we can; take other guys out of the game.”

Like Tristan Thompson who had 18 points but only took four shots (he made 3) to get it, as most of his scoring came from the free throw line after getting fouled.

“He had 12 free throws or something like that? He’s playing well for them,” Bradley said. ‘We have to try and limit him to less rebounds. It’s going to be hard. If we’re able to do that and guard the 3, I like our chances.”

Boston’s Al Horford anticipates seeing not just James but the entire Cavs roster try to be more aggressive at the start.

And that means as good as they did in Game 3, they’ll have to be even better tonight.

“On the defensive end, we feel there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement,” Horford told CSN. “We just have to come out and play.”

In Game 3, Boston fell behind by as many as 21 points but for the most part stayed within arm’s reach of the Cavaliers which was a major improvement over Games 1 and 2 in Boston.

And as the Celtics continued to climb back into Game 3, James’ lack of impact plays remained a mystery.

And while there are some who are quick to put Sunday’s loss on James, not surprisingly his coach sees things differently.

“We're all to blame,” said Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue on Monday. “We lost; it happens. For a guy who played great for five straight months, he's got to have a bad game sooner or later. He's human. He didn't shoot the ball well. It wasn't his ordinary game. But Kevin (Love) and Kyrie (Irving) had it going early and they played well, so it kind of got him out of rhythm a little bit in that first half. That's no excuse. Like I said, they played well, but we've just got to play better, be more physical.”

After reviewing the video from Game 3, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was once again impressed with James for the most part making the right basketball play most of the game.

“When you've got guys that are all on fire the way they are, the right basketball play is to find them,” Stevens said. “He just made it over and over.

Stevens added, “The guy is a tremendous basketball player. He makes the right play over and over, and he thinks the game, he sees the game. He's a really good defender. He can read situations. So, I thought he was pretty darned good. But like I said (following Game 3), I'm not going to be critical of the best player in the world.”

Indeed, Stevens has far more important things to worry about, like bracing his players for the impending storm known to all as LeBron James.