by Timmy Sclafani (@tsclafani20)
Following a disappointing AFC Championship loss by the New England Patriots and an embarrassing 9-2 Bruins loss at home, Boston sports fans needed a savior.
The Red Sox always come first in Boston– that’s not likely to change. After that, the sports landscape is fairly elastic in Boston, though you wouldn’t know it based on the last 15 years. The clear-cut number two has been the Patriots in that time span due to the four championships and the presence of Tom Brady.
People like to say that Boston is a hockey town–and that is pretty accurate–but it is not invariable. The 2007 and 2008 window where the Celtics were championship winners, and contenders, flaunting the likes of KG and Paul Pierce, came at a low-point for the Boston Bruins.
The Bruins hadn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1972, and they were only just beginning to assemble the pieces for their eventual 2011 cup victory. Despite being a “hockey town”, during that stretch from roughly 2007-2010 the Celtics were a lot more popular than the Bruins.
When the Bruins won the cup in 2011, there is no surprise that a lot of the attention shifted their way. It didn’t take long after that for the Celtics championship window to close, leading to the Brooklyn trade that saw Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett vacate the city. They took with them a big chunk of the Celtics fan base and casual interest in the team. Three years removed from the trade, the buzz is coming back for the Celtics, and a big part of it has to do with what felt like an early dismissal of our big three.
The trade finds the Celtics in a unique position this year where–despite being at least one star player away from being real contenders–they can give it their all every night and not worry about their draft position.
The big swing in Boston-sports-momentum came close to it’s climax last year when the Celtics reached the playoffs and the Bruins did not. Playoff hockey is a totally different beast–any team can win once they get in–and Boston was thirsty for it. Instead, the closest thing they got was the Celtics being swept by the LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It wasn’t pretty, but at least it was SOME playoff action. Boston fans seemed to take note.
While the Winter attention was on the Patriots, the Celtics were quietly climbing their way up the standings. When the Bruins were getting blown out of Gilette Stadium at the Winter Classic, the Celtics were winning games on the road and at home.
In the two weeks since the Patriots loss, Boston fans have turned to the other ongoing sports to quench their thirst. Most tried the Bruins first–like I said, Boston is a “hockey town”–only to see them lose 6-2 to the Anaheim Ducks and 4-3 to the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs. In a similar time span, the Celtics have won 8 of their last 10 games. Not only are they winning, but they are doing it with a team of young characters who are easy to love.
It all came to a head on the weekend of the Super Bowl. First, the Celtics beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on an Avery Bradley buzzer-beater. At the time, it was the Celtics best win of the season. They were on the big stage–like the Bruins had been in the Winter Classic–but they played up to the pressure. I’m not sure how many casual or new fans tuned in to that game, but I suspect there was at least some.
Following the Super Bowl, the next buzzed-about game in Boston was the return of Milan Lucic with the LA Kings on Tuesday night. Lucic was a fan favorite during the 2011 Stanley Cup era, so there is no surprise that this game had an expanded audience. Once again, the Bruins cracked under the pressure of playing a big game against a good team–they suffered their worst defeat in about 50 years.
I’ve never seen the Garden so empty by the start of the 3rd period. That loss alone was enough to make almost everyone watching realize that the Bruins need to make some serious changes before they are in a position to contend again.
On that same night, the Celtics battled back from a 19-point deficit to have the game tied with under 1 second to go. Again, they had done what the Bruins could not. They refused to get embarrassed or blown out in a game where–although they probably didn’t know it–they had a bigger audience than they did two weeks ago. Although they ultimately lost the game (on a dumb play), it showed what this Celtics team is all about.
Last night, with the overtime victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, I think the Celtics finally tipped the scale. The game had to have an enlarged audience– Paul Pierce was playing (for the other team) what could be is last game in the Garden. Doc Rivers, the Celtics most recent championship coach, was sitting on the other bench. Additionally, Boston fans were still in a stupor from the shameful performance the Bruins put in on Tuesday night.
The Clippers v. Celtics game had everything that makes basketball enjoyable to any fan. Drama, dunks, three-point shooting, star players, all-stars, bad calls, lead changes, and last second shots. The Garden had a legitimate playoff atmosphere as the Celtics made play-after-play to hang around in a game against one of the NBA’s elite teams. Just two nights after the Garden was more than half empty by second intermission, the Celtics had the place rocking like it was 2008 again.
I think people were catching wind before– but I think that last night’s win confirmed what many people were thinking; the Celtics have something pretty special going on. They have a ridiculous stockpile of assets to build toward their future, yet they sit in third place in the Eastern Conference.
Many advanced statistics place them right in the mix with some of the top five teams in the league. A rebuild that could have easily been a five-year project ended with a playoff appearance last year and is now poised for a playoff RUN this year. The Celtics have their first All-Star in three years, and he might not even be the best player on the team. There is so much to like about this current Celtics team, and it seems like Boston is ready for a ride after the All-Star Break.