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Call up a Cleveland fan. Ask him if he thinks it’s OK for Boston sports fans to panic.
Let’s begin with the Celtics. In the past month, the once NBA leader in wins has lately totaled more losses than wins. A 9-10 record in the weeks leading up to the playoffs is off-setting on its own, but when it comes after a controversial and unexpected trade involving your starting center, it’s slightly terrifying.
In more than one way, Kendrick Perkins was either loved or hated as the Celtics’ starting center. He was loved by fans who liked the way he fit in with the Celtics scorers, and hated by those who watched him fumble the ball on the baseline. He was loved by Danny Ainge when he was affordable, and hated by him when he turned down a contract extension this winter. And, what Celtics fans are most concerned with today, he was loved by the four All-Stars who were undefeated in playoff series when they started with him, and hated by MVP candidate and potential playoff opponent Dwight Howard.
A mediocre 14-12 record since the trade, which includes losses to the Clippers, Nets and Bobcats, could easily persuade the oft-skeptic sports fans in Boston to write them off for the playoffs. Throw in Sunday’s embarrassing loss to the Miami Heat, against whom the Celtics were undefeated before the trade, and it’s almost tempting to call it a year before the playoffs have even started.
So, why not panic? Because Doc Rivers says relax.
Rivers is clearly not concerned about the so-called troubles of the Celtics. Why worry about this team clicking when it went on a five-game win streak in the week after the trade was made? Why worry about losses to New Jersey and Charlotte when you have wins against New York and San Antonio? And why worry about a slow end to the season when you did it last year and ended the season one game away from a championship?
To Doc Rivers, health across the roster is more important than an April 11th win against the Wizards. All the Heat need to beat them out for the two seed is a Celtics loss, and what does Rivers do? He sits Pierce, Allen and Garnett. He called it a “difficult decision,” but I think he had his fingers crossed when he said it.
As I write this, the Celtics are in a last-shot situation in overtime of another meaningless late-season game (Editor’s note: the C’s lost), and Rivers has the following line-up on the floor: Carlos Arroyo, Von Wafer, Glen Davis, Jeff Green and Jermaine O’Neal. Pierce, Allen and Garnett all may as well have shown up in pajamas.
While the late-season rest strategy is usually only praised in the NFL, the Celtics may be better off taking that road leading into the playoffs. The aforementioned Big Three will undoubtedly play their hardest in the playoffs, especially with the clock ticking on their respective careers and the pressure building on their legacy if they don’t hang another banner. So, with Jermaine O’Neal in need of some quality playing time to get back into rhythm before the post-season, and Jeff Green in need of an opportunity to let loose without the pressure of fitting in with his scary big brothers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Celtics couldn’t have had a better opportunity than Monday night. The result: Green plays 47 of 48 minutes and goes off for 20 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals, and O’Neal plays 37 minutes for 15 points, 13 rebounds and 5 blocks.
Not to say that all is well in Boston, as those losses to the Bulls and Heat indicate that this year’s playoffs are far more competitive than the past two seasons, but a few hiccups for an ancient team at the end of an 82-game season should not be enough to incite panic.
In fact, for those Celtics fans who still may be losing sleep over an overtime loss to the Wizards, my prescription is they read C’s regular season records against Eastern Conference playoff teams: 2-2 against the Bulls; 3-0 against the Knicks; 3-1 against the 76ers; 3-1 against the Pacers; 2-1 against the Hawks; 2-1 against Orlando; and 3-1 against the Heat.
Your team is in the playoffs. With a three seed. Relax.
More to come on the Red Sox later on Tuesday.