Monday night’s playoff battle—and it was a battle, in every sense of the word—between Boston and Chicago left Celtics fans in a state of true euphoria.
One Ray Allen jumper was single-handedly responsible for staving off certain elimination and for keeping hundreds of green-and-white clad crazies from leaping off the Zakim Bridge.
Talk about killing two birds with one jumper —a season that seemed all but over about two minutes earlier was suddenly saved.
But then, in the latest Stephen King twist to what has thus far been a horror story postseason for the defending champs, news came down less than 12 hours later that reserve forward Leon Powe would miss the rest of the postseason with a torn ACL in his left knee.
You can now begin climbing the Zakim again.
Apparently the Celtics used up their reserve of good luck in last season’s run to the title. Just look at this list of trauma fans of the green-and-white have dealt with in the last week of the calendar: Kevin Garnett was all but ruled out of the postseason, Danny Ainge suffered a heart attack, the C's dropped Game One to the upstart Bulls—and Powe went down for the count.
Someone stop the roller coaster. I want out.
And though it seems like little more than a footnote losing a backup forward for the rest of the playoffs, the news of Powe’s injury changes everything. On a number of levels.
The first of which is a personal one. Powe has battled knee injuries—along with personal setbacks the likes of which would have long ago crushed a normal man’s will—since his teenage years. That raises the question of how many times one man can return from devastating knee injuries. It’s entirely reasonable to assume this could be the end of the road for Powe.
One can only hope it’s not. Powe is a great story (told eloquently here by one of the Boston Globe’s premier and underrated online columnists in Chad Finn). He’s also extremely likable and damn good under the basket.
Glen Davis seems to have found his way into Doc Rivers’ heart, but I’ve always preferred Powe. He’s as scrappy as they come, can score against anyone in the low block and never stops playing his butt off.
He even played three minutes Monday night after tearing his ACL. Just think about that for a moment.
But Powe’s injury is deadly on a team level, as well. Because the bottom line is this: The Celtics as presently constituted have little to no chance of reaching the NBA Finals. And they’ve officially reached desperation time.
They are playing close games with the Bulls because they’re essentially similar teams now —talented groups missing one or two significant championship pieces. The difference is the Bulls pieces are still pie in the sky; the Celtics’ pieces are in designer suits.
Powe’s absence forces the early return of Brian Scalabrine, who for all his red-headedness and fan-favoritness is not exactly who you think of when you hear the word savior. To be blunt, it’s a sad day for your favorite NBA franchise when Brian Scalabrine’s return is reason to celebrate.
But such is the case now for a Celtics team that must utilize Scalabrine and the inimitable Mikki Moore as key reserves in the frontcourt. The only thing you can really count on from that duo is 12 fouls a night.
And all of this changes the equation dramatically for the fans. Weeks ago I was giddy with excitement for the playoffs, awaiting Garnett’s return and the Celtics inevitable showdown with Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals. It was going to be epic.
Now, I’m left wondering how many games the C's have left. And that’s a hard pill to swallow. They’ve gone from championship contenders to underdogs in about six days. It was only months ago that they raced to a 27-2 start and appeared poised to raise banner 18. Now I wonder if there’s anything they can do to raise the fan’s spirits.
I’m not throwing in the towel. Not officially. But the games will be viewed differently now, not with a sense of expected dominance but rather with tentative hope. It’s a place all Celtics fans have been as recently as two years ago, but it seems as foreign as warm weather in a New England December.
It’s time to call on the leprechaun. These Celtics are due for a little good luck.
This article first appeared at www.examiner.com/manchester.
Keith Testa is the New England Pro Sports Examiner for Manchester, New Hampshire with www.examiner.com