With the playoffs long ago fading as a realistic possibility, the Boston Celtics started talking a month ago about playing the spoiler for playoff-bound teams. If they couldn’t take part in the tournament, they’d make sure they damaged some other teams’ postseason resumes.
In the past week, they’ve failed to do even that.
The Celtics ushered another opponent into the playoffs by falling to the Washington Wizards, 118-92, on Wednesday. The victory clinched a playoff spot for the Wizards, just as the Celtics’ loss in Toronto five days ago did the same for the Raptors. In between, the Celtics aided the Chicago Bulls’ quest to bolster their position in the Eastern Conference standings with a pair of losses on consecutive nights.
In a way, the Celtics are playing spoiler — except the only teams they are spoiling anything for are the teams battling Boston’s opponents for playoff positioning.
It might be a little disingenuous to even hint at a positive aspect from this game. The Celtics were beaten, not just in the win-loss sense, but in the sense of a team just not bringing any fight. They trailed by as many as 33 points. They shot 3-for-24 on 3-pointers, and never made a concerted effort to change their approach and attack the hoop. They let six Wizards score in double figures, including 33-year-old Al Harrington.
Yet the young big man combination of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk continues to provide flashes of hope for the Celtics, with Sullinger recording 25 points and Olynyk scoring 14. They each committed five fouls and combined for just eight boards, though, so we’ll keep them off our All-NBA ballot for the moment.
Brad Stevens’ eternal optimism and stoicism have come to be playfully mocked by diehard Celtics fans. When Stevens got tossed from a game earlier this season without every appearing to raise his voice or make so much as an animated gesture, the idea that Stevens is devoid of emotion only grew stronger.
Lately, Stevens hasn’t been so sunny. And while he hasn’t thrown a folding chair or anything, his patience has clearly been tested.
Just check out his response to question about when it all went wrong Wednesday.
“Right about when the game started,” Stevens told reporters in Washington, D.C. “Laid an egg. It was pretty obvious. I don’t want to take anything away from them, because it’s a big night for them, clinching a playoff spot. I thought they played great. But we didn’t provide any fight (Wednesday).”
To play devil’s advocate, maybe Stevens meant this as a compliment. Laying an egg is in season, after all, since Easter is coming up and everybody likes Easter eggs, right? Stevens might have been comparing the Celtics’ play to the joy of an Eastern egg hunt.
OK, probably not.