HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Recognizing the end of an era is one thing. Opinions will vary, some eyes will see the end when others won’t or simply don’t see it.
Acknowledging the end, however, is a completely different animal. Few people in the midst of that team dynamic are willing to acknowledge what seems obvious to outside observers.
And that’s what makes this season so intriguing for the Boston Celtics, who by all accounts are living out the final days of a proud, championship-contending era with the remaining members of their vaunted Big 3. And yet, after a three-day stretch that saw them take down two of the teams hanging around the top of the Eastern Conference (the Hawks Saturday night in Atlanta and the Knicks Monday night in New York), the fading(?) Celtics refuse to go away quietly.
Even without Rajon Rondo, whose triple-double in the win over the Hawks was stained by the one-game suspension he had to serve against the Knicks for bumping official Rodney Mott, the Celtics had enough left in the tank to knock off the Knicks. And they did it in trademark fashion, with Kevin Garnett agitating (mainly Carmelo Anthony) and Paul Pierce closing.
Not everyone is convinced that winning, even riding the wave of a three-game win streak, cures all things where the Celtics are concerned. David Aldridge, my trusted colleague from TNT and The Beat on NBA TV, said he needs more than temporary uptick in the Celtics’ performance before buying into their long-term resurrection.
And he’s right. There has to be more than just an occasional good weekend thrown into the mix before we can believe that the Celtics are capable of making one last run at the Eastern Conference finals with this nucleus. Celtics coach Doc Rivers always keeps it real and he’d be the first to talk folks off the bandwagon with his team at 17-17 just days into the third month of the season.
In an Eastern Conference that is in a complete state of flux outside of the top four of Miami, New York, Atlanta and Chicago, Boston has a chance to make up some serious ground in the coming weeks if they can maintain their current level of play … or something close to it.
The Indiana Pacers are just now playing up to their expectations and both the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks are in the midst of transition due to coaching changes. That leaves the door ajar for the Celtics to get into the mix for one of those top four spots, or at least into range to make a run at one of those spots during the post-All-Star Game push.
KG’s tough guy routine isn’t exactly necessary, but the Celtics do need to maintain that boulder-sized chip that’s always on their shoulders to keep this run going. Rivers has been heard barking out instructions to his team during games that are hard for a layman to interpret. For folks who understand the dynamics of this team and the unique relationship that exists between Rivers, his staff and his players, it makes perfect sense when Doc yells “Up Your Motor!”
Rivers believes in his team playing with a certain edge, even if that means straddling that proverbial line if need be (as Garnett did against the Knicks).
“The game just got heated. It’s just basketball,” Rivers told reporters afterwards. “There’s nothing wrong with getting heated. It happens. It’s a fun game, it’s competitive, it’s rough at times. That’s good, I think all that’s good. It should never carry over past that. I’ve had my moments as a player as well. It does, but you don’t want it to. And whenever it does, you feel terrible later. This is the way the game should be played, to me; it should be a competitive hard game. I thought overall the officials let us play, both teams. That’s good with us.”
We have no issue with it here, so long as they don’t cross the line.
And it’s clear, the Celtics have to keep that motor up from now on if they want to rejoin the realm of the relevant in the Eastern Conference and the league.