They were not the worst team in the NBA before, nor are they the best now. But it’s obvious it’s been a few games that the trend started to change in Boston. That initial 2-5 that shook the foundations of the franchise and put Ime Udoka’s position in slight danger It has become a 12-10 that, without being brilliant, brings them closer to the general tone of a season in which no one is very well and few are simply well. With the staff of their staff healthy, the Celtics have added their second consecutive victory against the Sixers and the fifth in the last seven games. And they have done it against a direct rival with whom they shared a record before the crash (11-10, now 12-10) and who are now looking in the rearview mirror. Suddenly, Celtics go eighth, tied with Hornets (ninth), Hawks (seventh and Cavaliers (sixth). And the Heat, that team that seemed unbeatable in the first few games, are just one win away. I said: it is not to shoot rockets, but …
The Cetics have always lived by sensations. On a traditional level, but more particularly in this last era, since Brad Stevens came to the bench and continued his questionable legacy (for now, it is) in the offices. The connection with the Garden and the chemistry between teammates has been differential in the entity. Even more than in others: as a founding team, it is pure history of the competition, dominated the NBA from 1957 to 1969 with Bill Russell, captured rings in the forgotten 70s and had Larry Bird as judge and executioner a decade later. And, not even the enormous crisis they have experienced (enormous for the size they have), has made them lose their mind when it comes to the more solid foundations of what has almost become a religion. Long projects, bet on coaches looking to the future and constant attempts to emerge without giving any especially big masterstroke in the market. As much as in 2008, the ring came for one of the most moved and exciting summers (that of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen …) of the recent history of the League.
What was once a virtue soon became a defect. Suddenly, long-term projects were not working, the opportunities for coaches seemed too many and it was not possible to emerge as before. Danny Ainge, who took over from Red Auerbach in 2006, pulled a conservative character that only broke to sign Kyrie Irving, which caused it to become even more conservative. And it was not known to adapt to the era of the empowered player, with fluctuating contracts, television contracts that gave a lot of money to the stars (and those who were not) and collective agreements that limited powers that were previously unquestionable. The leverage of the last big project wiped out his figure. Brad Stevens, who started the band of being the next Gregg Popovich, left the benches tired of so much farceing and wanted to build the team behind the scenes. And the project was given one last chance, with Udoka at the controls, Stevens as captain general and a squad that meant a very obvious continuity in terms of purely sports.
Against the Sixers, Boston has taken advantage of a rival whose casualties and the general situation are punishing too much, without anyone being to blame for the continuous excesses that loom over a project adrift and that may be facing a year key (again) as you keep losing games. The game was ugly, rough, full of errors, with a short result, good defenses and very bad attacks.. The Celtics shot less than 42% from the field; their rivals barely exceeded 37%. Neither team exceeded 25 points in any quarter and only the Celtics threatened to escape at a specific moment in which they were 12 up in a very good start that soon evaporated. Of course, the equality was tremendous: 16 lead changes on the scoreboard and 15 draws. And all doomed to a heart attack ending: Jayson Tatum’s basket (84-82 for the Celtics), free throws for Dennis Schröder (86-82), good response from Joel Embiid (86-84), Schröder’s tremendous layup (88 -84), spectacular triple by Danny Green (88-87), failure by the Celtics and failed triple attempt by the Sixers. George Niang, from the corner, came across a large Robert Williams III plug. And the balance definitely tipped to the side of the greens.
Tatum was the best of a strange game: 26 points and 16 rebounds for a player whose problem is that he plays the same day when he scores 60 points than when he scores nothing. This time, a good meeting for a star whose adaptation will depend on his evolution. 10 + 8 by Al Horford (with 5 blocks and a great defense over Tobias Harris on the final play), 10 + 4 by Robert Williams (with 3 blocks) and 13 goals by Schröder. Very little of Jayllen Brown (9) and less of a Marcus Smart who has helped the Celtics improve by stopping taking more than necessary in hot moments and driving the ball excessively. And in the Sixers, 13 + 18 + 6 + 2 + 3 for Joel Embiid, who stayed at 3 of 17 in shooting; 17 for Set Curry and Shake Milton, 12 for Niang and only 8 for Tobias Harris. Not much for a team that stayed at 8 of 31 in triples and that misses, anyone would say, Ben Simmons. In the end, the confrontation, beyond the winner and the loser, represents two projects that five years ago were destined to dominate the world and now … Anyway. We already know that the NBA does not wait for anyone. And the Celtics and Sixers know it too. In the end, with so many excesses, they have learned it.