Shortly after the Celtics' loss last Friday night to the Washington Wizards, an embarrassing 106-96 slip-up on their home floor, Doc Rivers addressed the media in the hopes of putting all the Celtics' past failures in the rear-view mirror.
There had been plenty of those failures.
Look at it this way. Of the six worst teams in the Eastern Conference by their final standing — that would be Indiana, New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington and New Jersey — the Celtics have lost to all of them this season.
There's a lot to be said for taking care of business and beating the teams you're supposed to beat. The Celtics, for whatever reason, haven't done it. And Doc wanted to clear the air.
"We've lost to New Jersey, we've lost to … you know," the coach said. "But if we make a run in the playoffs, will you forget all this? That's my question."
That is the all-important question. And as you try to size up the state of the Celtics with the postseason now less than 72 hours away, it's the question on everyone's mind.
So can we?
Can we forget the lapses in the Celtics' play that have dogged them all year long? The losses to the Nets, the Wizards, the Sixers and so on?
Can we forget that this team was 18 games over .500 by Christmas, off to a 23-5 start, and then finished still only 18 games over .500, going 27-27 the rest of the way?
Can we forget all the blown leads, all the miserable third-quarter efforts, all the crunch-time collapses?
Can we forget all the ugly blowout losses at home — by 20 to Cleveland, 20 to Memphis, 21 to San Antonio — that brought out the boo birds at the TD Garden?
Can we forget about all the off-the-court distractions? The rumors of Doc quitting, the rumblings about chemistry problems, the constant excuse of injuries?
Can we forget about Rasheed Wallace's missed 3s? Kendrick Perkins' technicals? Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels' falling off the face of the earth?
Can we forget all of this if the Celtics go deep this spring?
It might sound crazy, but I think the answer is yes.
That's the way the game works. The playoffs mean everything, and no one remembers the first six months. Whether it's fair, whether it's reasonable, whether it makes any sense — no one cares. It's all about getting it done in June.
If the Celtics want to silence all the critics once and for all, this is their chance. And given that this team finished out the regular season by losing seven of its last 10 games, there are going to be a lot of critics.
At this point, the majority of the people on Earth that believe the Celtics can win a title are in the Celtics' locker room. All the hype this spring will be about LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and a host of other guys out West that might have what it takes to get their teams over the hump.
No one expects the Celtics to return to glory.
But if the C's want to win back the respect of the basketball world, they need to do it now. They're not getting any younger, and they're not getting any hungrier. They've got to win now, while that window's still open.
If the Celtics fall in round one or two of the Eastern Conference playoffs, they'll be remembered exactly the same way they're viewed now — as a flawed, maddeningly inconsistent team that just didn't have enough drive to win.
But if they go deeper, they'll be the team that stepped up when it mattered most.
If the Celtics can shock the world, then yes, we will forget all this. How could we not?
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