If you search http://www.urbandictionary.com/ for the definition of “Boston Celtics” you will find the following response: “a team that is being ruined by Danny Ainge”. This definition was penciled in barely three years ago, but it demonstrates the complete upheavel that has recently taken place in the Beantown basketball world. A Celtics fan is a very special breed of basketball fan. With a franchise steeped in more history than any other ball club but a recent track record that has plainly sucked, Celtics fans of the past ten to fifteen years have usually had to spend their time hiding in the shadows, reminiscing about the days of Bird and McHale… the days they used to actually win games. Not any more.
In case you’ve been living under a rock or in a Biodome for the past few months, the Celtics are the hottest thing in town not married to Tony Parker and Celtics fans everywhere are coming out of their shells. Gone are the dismissive hand waves and retold stories of past Celtic glory. A new breed of Celtics fan has emerged, one carrying enough hope and arrogance to make up for the last fifteen years of crappy Celtics basketball. We sat down with TrashTalk’s resident Celtics fan Shooba, to see exactly what goes on inside the mind of these reborn fans.
RD: Before we get into the new “Big 3″ and the on-court success they’ve been having, a bit of background. How long have you been a Celtics fan?
SH: Alrighty well to be honest I was a typical NBA fan as a kid… it was all about Mike. But as I grew up a bit I came to realise that it was either the Celtics or the Spurs (Another team I had a soft spot for). The Spurs had Vinnie Del Negro (Who always came up big for me in NBA Live 1995!!!) but the Celtics were Irish and therefore got the nod due to my Irish heritage.
The Lockout set me back a bit… I lost my interest in the NBA for a while and only really kicked back into gear about 2002. I rode the wave of Pierce/Walker playoff run (And jumped for joy at the 29 point comeback)… and then it all kind of went to crap…
RD: Sure did, real crap. Before KG came along you guys sucked for almost 5 years. How tough has it been being a Celtics fan, especially after last year’s dismal season and the ensuing dismal draft lottery?
SH: Since I’ve been a ‘mature’ NBA fan I haven’t really experienced a lot of success from the Celts. Paul Pierce was the be-all-and-end-all of the ball club. I will always maintain that people in the NBA under-appreciate how good a player Pierce is. The guy has size, IQ, a scorers touch, clutch mentality, he’s an above average defender and has decent athletic ability. Just because he can’t jump out of a gym like VC or T-Mac doesn’t make him any less a threat, but it does make him less marketable! Plus, Pierce stuck it out in a tough situation and carried a team on his own back.
The drafting of Al Jefferson was a real turning point for the Celtics. All of a sudden we had someone who showed signs of being a franchise player. Delonte West, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green… these are solid starters or bench players in the NBA… Al Jefferson will be an All-Star. Injury was setting us back with him, and occasionally he would foul out in 4 minutes or something like that… but then he would do something special like abuse Ben Wallace in the low post and you would simply say ‘Wow… he will be very good if he develops as he should… I honestly felt that a Kendrick Perkins (For muscle/Defense) and Al Jefferson (For Offense) frontcourt could have been something to at least make us relevant again.
Last season absolutely sucked. There’s no way around that. Pierce was hurt and Tony Allen stepped up and played an Iguodala-like run of games… then blew his knee out on a senseless play. Al Jefferson was still too young to focus on offense around, and needed a star to take the focus away. We had no rotation in place… Doc seemingly pulled names from a hat. Scalabrine would play 25 minutes one game and 2 the next. Gerald Green would go 4/5 3PT but turn the ball over 8 times in the last 2 minutes of a game. Gomes was stable, Delonte too. Szczerbiak was toying with us… tempting us to believe in him before going AWOL for five game stretches.
Oden was the great white hope. If not him, at least Bill Simmons convinced us Durant was just-as-good-if-not-better… WE COULDN’T LOSE!
Then we did.
We traded for Ray Allen… and I have to tell you, I thought that was a good trade. I could see Ray would appease Pierce… both were genuine stars who wanted to win. I could honestly see Ray/Paul/Al Jefferson getting us to the #4 or #5 in the East.
Then we got the Big Ticket.
BOOM! Sports Illustrated covers. ESPN specials. Fan Forums explode in hyperbole and overblown enthusiasm. 82-0 was not an uncommon prediction. We had a peerless three headed monster. Sure we lost Al Jefferson(I will inevitably kick myself watching him desecrate defenders for the next decade), but have a chance now. A run at #17. That’s what is simply HAS to be about. Championship seventeen. Greatest Franchise in the Game. Even if we only have a 3 or 4 year window, Ainge was spot on the roll the dice. And at 13-2… I can’t explain how psyched I am…
RD: At what point did your excitement about these new-look Celtics turn into complete arrogance?
SH: I was really psyched for the season to begin. Opening game was against Gilbert “Big Mouth” Arenas who had guaranteed victory for the Wizards. To shut him up was really sweet (especially since I’ve never personally rated him as a player).
I was confident before the season began that we would be good, certainly top 4 in the East. Definitely Atlantic champs.
When did it turn to arrogance? I can nearly pinpoint it…
We were hosting Denver, a team who at the time had shown signs of being an elite ballclub. They were 2-2 (I think) and we were 2-0. We had scraped past Toronto and were facing our first Western foe. Watching that game was poetry in motion. It will probably remain the most dominant game anyone will play in the NBA this season. We just toyed with them. Allen Iverson is an insane talent and a fierce competitor. I like AI. I do NOT like Melo. I do NOT like K-Mart. So beating the Nuggs was oh-so-sweet. We were up 77-38 at halftime. HALFTIME! We had 38 and 39 points in the first and second quarters respectively. We simply could do no wrong. Pierce was enjoying himself, KG was dominating, Ray Allen was quietly carving them up. We were moving the ball supremely. Denver never had an easy shot and all ours seemed to be open jumpers from about 8 feet. It was so fun to watch. It really opened up the possibility that we could not “just” be an elite team… we could be THE elite team. It was awesome.
RD: The East has been a bit shaken up this season. The Bulls are struggling mightily, the Cavs look hopeless without Lebron, the Pistons are still the Pistons, and the Magic are the big surprise packet. Who do you see as the Celtics main Eastern threat come playoff time?
SH: The playoffs are a while away but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought that far ahead (Just like every other Celts fan).
Our main threats are, in order: Cleveland, Orlando, Detroit. I don’t think the Bulls can shake the mediocrity, especially with Ben Wallace playing enigmatically at best.
We’ve lost two games this year, to Cleveland and Orlando. When we played the Cavs LeBron played very well and Drew Gooden played out of his mind. I don’t expect Drew to bring that level of play every game, let alone a seven game series. In fact, I’d be surprised if Doc doesn’t address the whole ‘leaving Drew Gooden open’ tactic which cost us the game in Cleveland. But LeBron, in the playoffs? Scary stuff. We’d need to be peaking at precisely the right moment to get past the Cavs. Against Orlando we had to put up with Dwight in fully fledged “Beast-Mode” for a full half and nearly pulled off the comeback. Over a seven game series I think we would probably beat the Magic, especially if Dwight, Rashard and/or Hedo aren’t playing inspired basketball. The Pistons I haven’t seen this year yet. Although like you said, the Pistons are still the Pistons. They’re savvy and they know exactly how to win playoff series’. I think very highly of Sheed and Chauncey and I know they would make it basically impossible for a team to sweep them. I treat them seriously, but perhaps not as apprehensively as the Cavs or Magic. If we wound up playing the Pistons I would be thinking about how to win… against the Cavs or Magic I’m worried about how to stop LeBron/Dwight. Thats the difference I think. I think Toronto are a dark horse but they’d need to be healthy and firing on every cylinder they have to get past Celts/Cavs/Magic.
RD: Most people are saying KG is the big MVP favourite so far this season. Do you see him as the Celts MVP so far?
SH: I would have to say yes. He’s fundamentally altered how the Celtics play. Defensively his impact has been huge. Last year every defensive set started with us backpeddling and frantically rotating. This year, we have an anchor and we’re defending aggressively. Rondo still has a way to go before he can defend elite point guards but everywhere else we should be OK. Perkins is generally avoiding foul trouble and Allen has shown no signs of the doom-and-gloom predictions of his ankles hindering him. Pierce is happy (Which has been my personal highlight of watching the Celts this year) and when Pierce is happy he is an elite player in the NBA. Overall KG’s impact can’t even be measured in stats. Sure he’s had a few big games statistically, but I think you’ll find this year that each of the ‘PGA Tour’ is quite content to play as a unit. As such, any one of them can easily have a few games where they have only 12 points, or only 3 assists, or only 4 rebounds… as long as we get the win. So none of them will finish the season with mind-blowing stats.
And finally, KG’s impact has shown in the bench play. For all the naysayers who questioned our depth, I think these first 15 or so games have been promising at the least.
Eddie House and James Posey have been excellent (Although I’m subscribing to Jan Willink’s warning – Don’t fall in love with Eddie House too easily or you’ll end up getting hurt)… Scot Pollard knows his role and does a job. Tony Allen is slowly but steadily getting back to his ‘Bench Spark’ role. And can we talk about Glen Davis?!?! How did this guy slip to the second round!? The dude is awesome. Crowd favourite already, and clearly and NBA ready body. He’s so strong and has a scorer’s mentality. Great to see.
RD: While we’re getting ahead of ourselves, how long does this Celtics championship window stay open? And if you say more than two years you’re dellusional. I feel like you guys are the college geek who has luckily landed the hottest cheerleader on Prom night… it may be fun for a little while, but the cold hard reality will catch up with you and you’ll go back to being the loser geek before you know it. Sound about right?
SH: I think a better analogy is the Cinderella one… we’re living the high life and everything seems to be going right… but in the back of our minds we know there’s a time limit…
I honestly say our window is three years. This year, if we somehow manage to win it all, it would be because of the implosion of other teams who are more championship ready ie SAS, PHO… This season is about setting a foundation for what I think will be our major run at the title next season. I’m not kidding myself though. Our three best players are all on the wrong side of 30. KG’s body must be about 87 years old since he’s been in the league so long. Pierce has had chronic elbow problems, Allen’s had chronic ankle problems. Having said this, every single one of them is (I believe) a top 25 player in this league.
I think a major help for each of the big three is the fact that they can afford to take a night off for niggling injuries now. In years gone past when they were carrying their own teams there was an urgency for them to play. They were hovering around .500 or below… they knew their team had no chance without them… niggling little injuries were ignored and played through which undoubtedly made matters worse…
These days, we’re around the .850 mark… against most teams we’ll only need 2 of the big three (if that) to get the win. Sure against the Spurs and Pistons of this world we’ll need to be firing on all cylinders… but these days if Ray Allen has a sore ankle he can sit out the game to get it back to 100% and still know his team can win ball games. KG can rest the body every now and again and know that he’s not dashing his teams playoff hopes. Pierce’s elbow might not get so battered because he doesn’t have to shoot 20 times a game… and even if it does… taking a game or two off isn’t going to be an automatic 2 losses.
I honestly think that’s why the window is three years. At the Celtics the PGA tour will be able to look after their bodies a lot better. I think the 08/09 season will unequivocally be our best shot at the title. I think right now we’d need a few breaks to go our way such as GSW knocking out Dallas last year, paving the way for the rest of the West. In 09/10 we will be the aging team of course, but as long as they time their run I still think a core aged between 31 and 34 is still more than capable of contending for the title.
Besides, by then Glen Davis is the league MVP anyways
RD: Your quick thoughts on the following:
a) How many players do the Celtics take to the All-Star Game?
b) Can you guys win 70 games? Does it matter?
c) What does this Boston team have to do to warrant comparison to the original “Big 3″?”
SH: a) KG is a mortal lock for a forward spot with LeBron. Pierce and Allen will have to rely on coaches wanting them… I think Pierce has the better shot…
b) I don’t think we can win 70. That’s ridiculously insanely good. I think 65 is a very impressive win total we should be aiming for. It doesn’t matter though…
c) It’s become the cliche that they have to win a title to warrant comparison with Bird/Parish/McHale… I don’t agree… I think comparing them is fine… each trio is a collaborative of three stars playing in Boston and winning games. I don’t see the problem comparing them at all. I would draw the line at considering them equals until the PGA tour prove they’ve got the right stuff in the playoffs. PLayoffs are a whole new ballgame and some players just don’t cut it.
RD: It’s game 7 of the NBA finals. Boston vs San Antonio. The Celts are down by 1 with 10 seconds to go, with posession at half court. What does Coach Rivers do? Draw up the play for me…
SH: OK, so I’m assuming I have an ideal choice of who to have on the floor. Obviously I have my shooters on the floor, that means no Kendrick Perkins and Eddie House gets the nod over Rajon Rondo. So it’s smallball!
In this hypothetical Posey takes the inbound. I’m looking to Pierce as option 1 and Allen as option 1.0001, and I’m looking to avoid the very basic isolation play that everyone seems to have fallen in love with. Pierce moves better with the ball than Allen, who often seems to just put his head down and run for open space. So ideally I have a double screen for Pierce to get the ball on the left of the court (The left elbow is his sweet spot… it’s where he won games at the buzzer last season vs Nets, Wiz and Spurs)
So Pierce has the ball about 30ft from the basket. Old Man Bowen is undoubtedly guarding him with Parker on House, Manu on Allen, Duncan on KG and (let’s say) Oberto on Posey. Posey inbounds and get the hell out of the way, drifting around Pierce to the right corner for a last resort pass option; he’s also a baseline rebound threat. House is camped in the left corner for the three if Parker collapses on Pierce. House should never move. Allen, having set a screen for Pierce, waits for Pierce to dribble 3 off the clock before rolling around another screen from KG and heading to the right for a midrange. KG sets the two screens then rolls to the basket, leaving the left elbow free for Pierce.
Pierce makes his move on Bowen* and 1st option is Pierce from 18 feet. If not, look for Allen. If he has a foot or two break on Manu heading towards the right wing, Pierce should feed him. If not, a lob to KG miiiight be an option but only if Tim Duncan isn’t all over KG. If Parker collapses on Pierce, as I said before, Pierce can kick it to House. Posey is last resort, cutting to the basket.
Ideally Pierce puts it up with about 4 seconds to go, giving Posey/Garnett a legitimate shot a the offensive board.
If Pierce can’t get free for the inbound then the KG screen for Allen becomes pivotal. Allen has to receive the ball and face up on Manu. Then Pierce has to set a screen for Allen to free himself of Manu so he can come around to the right wing for a spot-up jumper. If Bowen rotates too well then look for Posey to cut to the basket, hopefully having a step or two on Oberto.
House shouldn’t be used unless Parker leaves him open. KG shouldn’t be used unless he has a step on Duncan or is positioned ring side for the lob and dunk. That’s not because I necessarily subscribe to the “KG Choke” school of thought… it’s just that Tim Duncan is the best basketball player in the world! He should be avoided!
So anyways… there it is. The play that wins us #17. Of course if it ever gets to that moment I will be in cardiac arrest and unable to enjoy it!
*In my mind, Pierce has Bowen beaten at the elbow anyways. Did you see him last year? Bowen was all over Pierce twice down the stretch (In San Antonio)… no call either play and Pierce still drained two cold-blooded jumpers to give the Celtics their first win over the Spurs since Tim Duncan got drafted… a rare highlight from last season!
RD: As we speak the Celtics are cleaning up the Raptors for another massive win. You’ll be 16-2 and whether you like it or not, that 70-win hype is not going to die down.
My last question. As a Celtics fan, what is your biggest fear right now?
SH: The obvious fear for the Celtics is injury. Any long-term injury to Pierce, Garnett or Allen is seriously going to put a dampener on the season. Having said that, I think even if one goes down long term, the other two are good enough to still reach 50-55-odd wins. Injury wouldn’t ruin our season like a Kobe injury would decimate the Lakers or a Paul injury would mangle the Hornets. It would just be a bit of a bummer.
Aside from that, it seems team chemistry is a non-issue for us. Everyone seems to get along and the PGA tour are the undisputed leaders. Apparently in the locker room the PGA are all over anyone acting unprofessionally.
Maybe the 70 win hype will build up steam… but let’s remember that we haven’t faced an elite West team like San Antonio, Phoenix or Dallas just yet. I sincerely doubt we make it to 70. Obviously it would be cool to do, but this should all be about making a postseason run. Everyone must’ve learned from Dallas last year. I’d rather win 69 games and be 100% for the playoffs than win 73 games and be 95% for the playoffs.
I’m liking the fact that the Garden is becoming a fortress again. I’m liking the fact that the other teams are circling the Celtics on their calender. I am LOVING the fact that Doc seems to have settled on a specific rotation. Last year we had nothing to resemble any rotation. Now it’s Posey and House getting significant minutes. We throw Pollard at any less-than-athletic big that comes our way. Big Baby Glen Davis is our spark off the bench and an offensive board MACHINE. Check out that kid, seriously, he’s already a crowd favourite. He tops rookies in ESPN’s Player Efficiency Ratings. He’s my surrogate Al Jefferson.
I guess the only other thing is that I really want to emphasise that it’s very early goings yet. They’ve played 18 games together. The NBA season is a looooooooooong haul and I’m not kidding myself into thinking there won’t be any lows. We’ll have low points and we’ll have high points. We need the PGA to play only as many minutes as are needed.
RD: That about wraps it up. Shooba, thanks for your time. See you when the Celts lose their third game after facing the Pistons