By Kevin Henkin
Honestly, I almost forget what it feels like to consider regular season games borderline meaningless, but in the good sense. The Celtics have twelve games remaining (which are mostly against teams that, um, aren’t very good) before their second season begins. Those twelve games will be used primarily as a tune-up, a stretch to find the balance between rest and continued flow for its key players and to further establish the newcomers into the rotation. It’s a strange feeling to be able to sit back and focus less on the whether the team will win the game and more on the nuances that may affect the longer-term as the Celtics prepare for the more important games to come.
Yesterday, I scoffed at the use of the twenty year timeframe in citing how long it’s been since the Celtics were good. Upon further reflection, there is some truth to the claim if you consider the length of time that has passed since Celtics fans truly had a comfort level with the team’s chances of legitimately challenging for the title. 1987 was the wake-up call. I still remember feeling stunned at how badly the Celtics were outplayed by the Lakers in the Finals that year. Most of us were expecting a repeat of prior series against the Lakers in terms of fierce competitiveness but it just wasn’t there. The hobbling Celtics were simply over-matched a mere year after fielding one of the best teams ever to take the court. There were times, sure, that the team was very good after 1987 but the swagger of the fans was gone, especially when they realized how good the Detroit Pistons had become while the Celtics had aged and become fragile. Bearing this in mind, it really has been twenty years since the fans could truly sit back and relax as the regular season played out, pausing to smell the roses and comfortably waiting for the meaningful games to begin again.
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The Philly game was interesting to watch because of the possibility of a face off against them in the playoffs. Doc Rivers obviously tailors his rotation game-by-game based on the individual match-ups, especially with the use of guys like P.J. Brown, Glen Davis and Leon Powe as well as Tony Allen, Sam Cassell and Eddie House. Other remaining games with similar possibilities of playoff match-ups are the games against Washington, Atlanta, New Jersey and Chicago. Beyond the next game against Phoenix on Wednesday, those are the remaining calendar-circlers.
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The second-to-last game of the season is on the road against the New York Knicks. It may be the last opportunity for Celtics fans to watch Isiah Thomas work his anti-Midas touch on an NBA franchise. Look up Schadenfreude in the official Celtics fans dictionary and you’ll a picture of the bizarre frozen grimace of Isiah Thomas sitting on the sideline as he and his players mutually ignore each other.
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Thought of the day from Al Jefferson:
“When we played Boston, Doc Rivers, he had them double-team me every time I touched the ball. Then I watch their game against San Antonio and they didn’t trap Duncan like that. Why? Because he’s too good a passer, so I figured then, I had to get better at that. I had to see the open guys, I had to get guys easy layups. That way, eventually, they’ll stop doubling me so much.”