Resurgent Celtics Crushing Opponents

As we watch the resurgent Boston Celtics in another methodical demolition of another supposedly worthy Atlantic Division opponent, we can’t help but marvel at what the Celtic’s brain trust hath wrought. In what other professional sport is it possible to go from worst to first in one off-season?

As a matter of fact, it is not an unprecedented feat in any American sport. In baseball, within relatively recent times, the 1991 Twins and Braves and the 1997 Giants rose from last place to a division or league crown the following season.

And in football, it turns out that worst to first is practically pedestrian; in the last 30 years, starting with the 1967 Houston Oilers, it has happened fourteen times. The  Bungals have accomplished it three times — in 1970, 1981 and 1988.

The two biggest turnarounds in football history were the 1975 Colts, who improved from 2-and-12 to 10-and-4 and the 1988 Bengals, who improved from 4-and-11 to 12-and-4, both winning their divisions.

But let’s not let that detract from the truly delightful brand of basketball being played these days down on Causeway Street. For a Boston round-ball junkie, watching the Celtics these days is like a long cool glass of lemonade after a forced march through Death Valley. Now, after 20 years of wandering in the doormat desert, the promised land is in sight.

We are even willing to concede a modicum of credit to Dastardly Danny Ainge. Six months ago were were ready to tar and feather his whiney ass out of town, holding him personally responsible for the decay and denigration of one of our favorite franchises of all time.  Had we accidentally run into him at a Mitt Romney rally, we would have had to be physically restrained from strenuously expressing our displeasure. From the perspective of the best record in the NBA, however, we have to admit Danny Boy’s dim bulb is looking a bit brighter these days.

Like all of the aforementioned worsts to firsts, the Celtics are doing it with defense and team play. A rigorous statistical analysis of these teams show that although their offensive production rose marginally (less than 8% on average) their defensive statistics jumped big time. After years of preaching Defense First to little apparent effect, Doc Rivers finally has a choir of players who are listening. While a respectable 10th in the NBA in scoring, the Celtics lead in just about every defensive category ever defined; opponents points, opponents field goal percentage, opponents 3 -point field goal percentage (tied for 1st); and margin of victory.

They are not just winning games, they are embarrassing teams, and making it look easy. Last year, the Celtics led opponents by 20 points or more in nine of the 82 games they played. This year, so far, they have had 20-point-plus leads in 12 of the 18 games they have played. At one point they led the hapless Knicks by 50. That’s sick.

They are doing it through defense, teamwork and unselfish play. They have thrown together three superstars with different games and skill sets, but with one thing in common. Each of them has been ‘The Man’, carrying a franchise on his shoulders, setting scoring records, accumulating personal awards and recognition, and found it ultimately hollow. They are no longer driven by the lust for money (all are mega-millionaires) or fame or points or playing time. All they really care about is the one reward they haven’t yet achieved – the Ring.

To that end they are willing to sacrifice the individual stats for the only number that really means anything – W’s. In the process they are rediscovering what a beautiful thing basketball can be; a veritable ballet of highly coordinated, enormous athletes, improvised on the fly after arduous hours of practice and laid down on a preconceived structure of organized chaos. Kinda like a jazz quintet, when they know what they are doing.

We’ve seen this kind of basketball before in Beantown, and for those of us old enough to remember, it’s been a long dry spell. Let’s try to enjoy the visual and vicerous feast which will be laid before us in the coming months, and try not to gloat at the teams near the bottom of the tables, going nowhere fast, and looking an awful lot like the Celtics did last year, and the year before, and the year before that……..

About dowbrigade

Semi-retired academic from Harvard, Boston University, Fulbright Commission, Universidad Laica Eloy Alfaro de Manta, currently columnist for El Diario de Portoviejo and La Marea de Manta.
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One Response to Resurgent Celtics Crushing Opponents

  1. Ray says:

    Good post on the Celts. Must take exception to one thing, though. We should be kissing Ainge’s ass in apology, not just giving him grudging props. He did what he said he was going to do all along — stick with a long-term plan of stockpiling assets and build a team around Paul Pierce. When Option One — hoping that youngsters like Al Jefferson would learn on the job quickly (he didn’t) and playing the percentages in the draft (no Oden or Durant) — didn’t work, Ainge not only had a backup plan (Allen and Garnet), but the assets to make it happen. That’s not luck, that’s great management.

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