BOSTON — There was sadness, not madness, on Causeway Street when March dawned in 2012. It was fitting that the month’s birthstone is bloodstone, since the Celtics seemed to be hemorrhaging all over the parquet floor.
The Celtics’ record was an even .500 after the team had just fought back from a five-game losing streak with a pair of wins over the lowly Bucks and Nets. Think the sports radio callers begging for Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to deal Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett at the trade deadline were relentless this year? That was nothing compared to the alarm, and in some cases vitriol, that dominated merely a year ago.
This is far from ancient history, of course, but as another March opens in Boston it seems as though the lessons of last season have already been forgotten. The Celtics are once again mired near the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff standings, have considerable concerns regarding their roster depth and battle to score enough points to win on a nightly basis. Still, the spirit that inspired the “Let’s go, Celtics” chant that serenaded Pierce and company off the court after Game 6 of last year’s conference finals seems to have been lost.
History does not always repeat itself, and it cannot be ignored that the 2011-12 team had a healthy Rajon Rondo. If a cynic wants to base his entire argument for the Celtics’ impending downfall this year on that single fact, there is not much more he needs to say.
Given the convenience with which things fell into place for the Celtics last season, though, it is tough to write off the Celtics again. They are 31-27 after Friday’s 94-86 win over the Warriors, and despite a challenging road-heavy schedule the rest of the way, they end the season with winnable games against Minnesota, Detroit, Cleveland, Washington, Orlando and Toronto sprinkled around tough matchups against the Nets, Heat and Pacers. Derrick Rose, whose torn ACL helped open the door to last year’s run for the Celtics, seems conflicted about when he should return from the injury. Brooklyn and New York can be beaten, as the Celtics have proved. And the Celtics already have one win over Indiana, so they know that can be done as well.
Meanwhile, it should not be taken lightly that the team’s chemistry seems to be at an all-time high. They have won eight straight home games and three out of four games overall, playing just one game below .500 on the road since Rondo’s injury. They were 7-15 on the road prior to that.
“When the team’s rolling, you don’t want to let them down,” Courtney Lee said. “It’s causing everybody to step up their game and play at a high level, whether it be at the defensive end, help rebounding or on the offensive end. Each person holds each other accountable.”
No, the Celtics do not have Rondo, but once upon a time they did not have Avery Bradley, either — at least not the version of Bradley they have now. When the Celtics outlasted the Bucks in the last game of February 2012, Bradley logged only 13 minutes, 30 seconds of playing time. He received the third-most minutes of any guard off Boston’s bench, behind Mickael Pietrus and Keyon Dooling.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers did not know what he had in the waterbug guard out of Texas, even if he was forced to start Bradley on occasion. From Feb. 28, 2012 to March 23, 2012, Bradley averaged roughly 13 minutes per game. On March 25 against the Wizards, Bradley started in place of an injured Ray Allen, the Celtics won, and Bradley became a mainstay in the rotation. He never played less than 25 minutes in a game the rest of the season. His absence from the conference finals, when he could have helped slow down Dwyane Wade with his defense, turned out to be a contributing factor to Miami’s seven-game victory.
The point is, 24 games remain in this season. There is ample time for things to change drastically. A new hero could emerge, like Bradley did a year ago. A devastating injury could befall a previously surefire contender. A hardened veteran could play with renewed furor, as Garnett did last season in putting together three of the best months of basketball he has had in years. The way things appear at the beginning of March is not always the way they end up being by the end of March. Just ask Julius Caesar.
The Celtics’ issues are undeniable, but fates can turn quickly. Just because the Celtics go into March like lambs does not mean they will not go out like lions.