After thirty-two games, we seem to have reached a sort of breathing point in the season. The Celtics have had a luxurious four-day layoff between their hugely (some would say overly) satisfying win over the Pistons in Auburn Hills and their upcoming Wednesday barnstorming contest against the Bobcats. The past week or so has seen a flurry of interest in the Celtics from local media, even if much of it is weirdly takes the form of columns about the Celtics in which said columnists castigates him/herself for not writing more columns about the Celtics. The team stood as a bit of an afterthought in that irritating rash of "Boston's sports teams just can't lose!" stories that flooded out around New Year's, which is pretty reasonable since both the Sox and Pats have proven themselves as championship-caliber organizations and the Celtics haven't done so in about twenty years. Make no mistake, once the Pats have 19-0 in the bank (or however that whole thing ends), the Celtics will become the talk of the town in Boston, and it'll be interesting to see how they respond.
I've spent this entire season grappling with the question of whether or not this team is for real, and at this point I'm set to emerge with a cautious "yes" (or maybe a "yes?" with an upward, questioning inflection). I think Tim's correct in his assertion that it's increasingly worthless to talk about barometer games: the season is 82 games long, we're more than a third of the way through it, and honestly, the C's could go out and lose to Charlotte tomorrow and I'd still feel the same way about them. Great teams sometimes lose to bad teams, that's just how things go, and while a second loss to the Pistons would have been disheartening and the win was proportionally thrilling, in the end all a loss in Detroit would have meant was 28-4 as opposed to 29-3, and the C's would still be off to one of the best starts in the history of basketball; this way it just feels more real to us (and apparently to James Posey, who might want to dial it down just a bit).
It's honestly dizzying to think about what it all means. We've already got five more wins than we compiled all last season, and I still don't think challenging those 72-win Bulls is a possibility but the fact that it's not an impossibility is nothing short of stunning. If this team gets to 55-60 wins and goes deep into the playoffs--and it certainly can do both of those things--Ainge's already-legendary offseason shifts from being simply brilliant to potentially revolutionary. Leaving aside the perverse good fortune of managing to tank both the season AND the lottery (honestly, you have to wonder if any of this happens even if the C's landed the third pick last year--we were hearing they loved Horford), Ainge made a historically unprecedented roster gamble, blowing up his team to an extent no one would have thought possible, and now he's ended up with one of the biggest single-season turnarounds in the history of basketball, if not all of sports. Seriously, what if Kobe's on the block again this summer? Shit, what if LeBron seems even remotely attainable at any point in the foreseeable future? You don't think some team is going to look at what the Celtics did and trade the farm for one of those guys, and maybe snatch up a Pau Gasol with the leftover change? Basketball is different than football or baseball in that there's only ever five guys on the court at a time, meaning that individual players can truly make tremendous differences. Sure, depth is important, but it's not that important: with occasional exceptions, basketball is a game of stars, and right now the Celtics have three.
It's going to be fascinating to see how the rest of it plays out, especially since the truly hard parts are yet to come. These guys definitely believe in themselves, though, and little by little we're all starting to believe in them, too, and you'd best believe that the rest of the League takes the Boston Celtics deadly seriously at this point. I'm excited just to watch Big Baby develop, who may never be Al Jefferson but he's sure as hell Ryan Gomes and then some. What a year it's been so far.