Not Time to Panic About the Celtics

Stew WinkelSenior Analyst IFebruary 25, 2008

I moved to Washington, D.C. from Boston in 2002, and one of the first things I did when I got to our nation’s capital was take a look at the Boston Celtics schedule and see when they were coming to town.  

For one of the games, I could not find a ticket to my liking through the Wizards’ ticket office, especially when figuring in all the fees that get added on top of the ticket price. 

So I went to EBay, and wound up getting very good seats from a season ticket holder.  He sold the tickets for more than he paid for due to the discount he received as a season ticket holder.  I paid less than face value (and avoided all the fees).  A win-win situation.   

The next time the Celtics were in town, I e-mailed the same person and asked him if he would be willing to sell me the tickets for the same price as before.  He readily agreed, and we kept this arrangement for almost every subsequent Celtics-Wizards game in D.C. 

Until this season.   

About a month before this season began, I received an e-mail from the person and he told me that he wouldn’t be selling me the tickets to either of the Celtics-Wizards games this season at the Verizon Center. 

He wanted to go to one of the games himself. 

For the other game, he wanted to keep it on EBay because it would be one of the most sought after tickets.   This was the first real sign that for a Celtics fan, this season was going to be very different than anything I have really experienced in over a decade. 

I am reminded of that now because after losing three straight games coming out of the All-Star break, I sense a small level of panic among some Celtic fans.   

Is the team worn out?  Did they peak too soon?  Where is the energy?  Have the other teams caught up to them?   

I just want everyone to relax. 

We were spoiled in the first few months of the season, watching the Celtics storm out of the gate to a 9-0 record on their way to a 29-3 mark that took the team into January.  Since then they are “only” 13-9.  Even though the team is no longer on a 70-win pace, this team continues to provide me with more excitement than I really could have predicted entering the season. 

A year ago, when people at work would ask what I watched on TV last night, and I said “the Celtics,” I would invariably get laughed at.  This happened even a few years back, when I returned to Boston for a year.  In Boston, during the 2006 season, I vividly remember my boss thinking I had to be joking when I told him I had plans to watch the Celtics on TV that night.   

Now it has all changed.  Between the hype around this team leading into the season and then the Celtics ripping off blowout victory after blowout victory in the first few months, teams now are geared up to play the Celtics.   After beating the Celtics last week, Allen Iverson said, “Winning this game puts a lot of pressure on us, because if you can beat a team like this, then you can beat all the other teams.” 

A few nights later, the Celtics played at Golden State.  The Warriors drew the largest crowd in franchise history for the game, and according to the team, it was the largest crowd ever to watch a basketball game in the state of California.  Golden State is a good basketball team, and they are fun to watch no question—but that crowd was there to see the Celtics. 

Not only was the crowd excited, but it was obvious this game meant a little more to the Warriors than many of their other games.  Watching the game on the NBA Package, I was able to listen to the Golden State commentators.  They pointed out that the Golden State bench stood for almost the entirety of the game.  After Al Harrington had a steal and a dunk, they said that they haven’t seen that type of energy out of Harrington at both ends of the court in a long time.   

Then the Celtics went to Phoenix, a title contender, arguably the best team in the league a year ago before losing to the Spurs in the playoffs, due, at least in part, to circumstances out of their control.  The fans and the team were into that game as if it were a playoff game.  No doubt the Suns always have good crowds, and that some of the excitement was due to it being Shaq’s second game.  But the fact this was their chance to see the Celtics had a lot to do with the great atmosphere in the arena that night.  

A sign, at least to me, that these teams put a little extra into their effort to play the Celtics is what happened to each team the next game they played—the Nuggets went to Chicago and lost by 14; the Warriors hosted Atlanta and got beat by seven; and the Suns suffered their worst loss of the season, losing by 30 to the Pistons.   

The Celtics have 12 losses this season—seven times the team that beat Boston lost the next game—losing those games by an average of 17.1 points. 

Maybe that is all a coincidence.  But for years I have been on the other end of this—when the Celtics would play the best teams and the best players, suddenly more people cared, the home crowds would be a little bigger and a little more into the game.    

This season, it is the Celtics who are one of the hunted teams. 

The games against the Celtics are the ones that opposing fans are circling on their calendar, making sure if they can’t make it in person, they are watching the game on TV. 

Those games against the Celtics are ones, as stated by Allen Iverson, that teams are using to judge themselves.  

Expectations remain high for this Celtics team, but I understand it is a long season, and there are still nearly 30 games to play.  With the playoff experience of the Detroit Pistons, the level that LeBron has taken his game to—combined with the Cavs deadline trade acquisitions, the road to the NBA finals out of the Eastern conference will be very difficult.   

But over the last 14 seasons, there has been very little to be excited about as a Celtic fan, and even less that interested anyone outside of the real die hard fans. 

A brief three-game skid to talented teams on the road is not going to make me forget anything about why I have loved this season, nor will it take away from the fact that for the first time since at least 1992, the Celtics are a legit contender for the NBA title.  At the end of the day, that is really all you can ask for as a fan.   

Now just beat the Clippers tonight.