One of the great tragedies in Boston sports history was the late-80s decline of the Boston Celtics. A prominent team for much of the decade, the Celtics were lead by the iconic "Big Three" of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish.
The Celtics were among the elite of the league until suddenly their age and injuries caught up to them as the "Big Three" painfully tried to persevere and contend, and the Celtics eventually decomposed into a league joke entering the 90s.
They are now facing an eerily similar situation.
The Celtics are currently a respectable playoff team in the Eastern Conference, led by another aging "Big Three." Ray Allen (34), Paul Pierce (32), and Kevin Garnett (33) are respectable veterans with a combined 38 seasons of professional basketball. Throw in key bench players Rasheed Wallace (35) and Michael Finley (37) and the Celtics have one of the oldest cores in the league.
Simply put, the Celtics, this year, have been sluggish, uninspiring, and cranky. The trademark defensive intensity which helped them win a championship in 2008 has vanished into thin air. Health bills have piled up as Kevin Garnett continues to limp around like Dr. House, quietly joining the “7'0'' shooting guard” club (see Nowitzki, Dirk).
Ray Allen has lost a step (understatement). He remains a classy individual who Boston will forever owe gratitude, but it’s painful to watch him come off a pick and throw up a three which clunks out, especially when it likely would have dropped two years ago—unless, of course, it is the fourth quarter and the Celtics are being blown out. Then Mr. Allen’s stroke seems to be just fine.
Meanwhile, the captain, Paul Pierce, has shown the fragility of J.D. Drew and has regressed back to taking the ridiculous, roll-your-eyes shots he used to take before he had Garnett and Allen, when the Celtics were strictly Paul Pierce, illiterate high school grads, and Timberwolves rejects (remember Michael Olowokandi?). He seems to have forgotten his two albeit aging Hall of Fame teammates and ignores that Kendrick Perkins is a solid center, Rajon Rondo a budding star.
Then there’s the “big” offseason addition, Rasheed Wallace, who has taken more threes (270) from his center position than his weight in pounds (a generous 240 on NBA.com). He is the perfect compliment with KG as a post player capable of dominating the paint who instead elects to imitate Eddie House—except Eddie House can hit threes (By the way, the Celtics traded the sharp-shooting House for the sporadic Nate Robinson).
Yet all of the aging players along with coach Doc Rivers continue to proclaim after every loss that the team is fine and simply needs to find its groove, which invokes as much faith as watching Kevin Bacon from Animal House scream “All is well!” as he’s trampled by panicking parade watchers.
All in all, the aging Celtics are noticeably worse and noticeably cranky—their once flawless chemistry on the court has departed and is now the trademark of the younger, athletic teams in the conference, mainly the Cavaliers, the Magic and the Hawks, none of whom the Celtics stand a legitimate chance of beating in a seven game series in the playoffs. (For the record, I can’t wait to hear Rasheed’s explanation after they lose in Round Two: “Man, don’t worry; we’ll be ready come the playo-…I mean, training camp.”)
Essentially, the entirety of the team refuses to acknowledge the fact that they a) aren’t trying as hard as they used to and b) aren’t as talented as other teams as evidenced by their major inconsistency.
The Celtics have talent and experience (plenty of it). But they continue to play inconsistently while promising to build momentum for the playoffs. Celtics fans have to hope that the grizzly veterans on the Celtics can find the fountain of youth before the younger Cavaliers, Magic, or Hawks sweep out the nursing-home Celtics.
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