THE OLD GUARD
This could be 450 words or 45,000. I will spare you -- we'll go for 450. Just know that I can't remember another deadline deal knocking a team from "favorites" to "also-rans." There's no historical precedent. The trade undermined everything the Celtics were about: size, toughness, togetherness, chemistry, friendship, relationships ... it erased their identity Jason Bourne-style. Whether it was true or not, this particular Celtics team really did believe in the whole "nobody has ever beaten us in a series when we had our starting five" mantra, just like they believed in "ubuntu" and their ability to protect that aforementioned six feet at all times. Well, how do you preach "ubuntu" after you just blindsided one of your core guys in a trade that didn't totally need to happen? So it's conditional ubuntu?
The more I watch this Celtics team, the more I realized that they were overachieving those first 3½ months because of chemistry and swagger. Watching Chicago rough them up Thursday was pretty depressing. Keith Bogans pushed Ray Allen around like a rag doll. Kurt Thomas and Glen Davis fell into a heap, then Thomas jumped up and stood over Davis like he had just tripped him in a prison cafeteria and wanted to send him a message before they both got sent to the hole. Joakim Noah pranced around and did Noah things knowing that everyone had his back. With 20 seconds left in a blowout, Carlos Boozer got tangled with Nenad Krstic and decided to shove him six feet, got called for a foul, then stared him down before sauntering back to his bench and being greeted by smiling teammates. Honestly, it was like watching a deleted Cobra Kai scene. The trade was bad enough -- watching my team get punked out on national TV was something else. That game made me ill. So does the trade. I don't know what the Celtics are anymore, and neither do they.
One more thing: Every Celtics fan is in "last year, we wrote them off and we made the Finals" mode. Which is fine. That's what you do when you're grieving. You make excuses. Just know that ...
A. The 2011 Bulls are better than any 2010 Eastern team. There's no comparison, actually. All season long I've been watching them with the same frightened look that Mickey had during Clubber Lang's fights in the beginning if "Rocky 3."
B. The odds of the 2011 Celtics getting a gift on the level of WTHHTLBJBG3G6 (Whatever The Hell Happened To LeBron James Between Game 3 and Game 6) are about 100-to-1. Miracles don't happen twice.
A few weeks ago, Kendrick Perkins said something interesting: he believed you need two quality big guys if you really want a good defensive team. His reasoning was that one guy alone couldn't protect the rim, defend the low-post and jump out on high screens. With two big guys, everything falls into place. Before Thursday's Bulls-Celtics game, Tom Thibodeau made a similar point: he said that, defensively, it didn't get any better than the Perkins-Garnett duo.
Now, I have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about this -- not just what Perkins said, but defense and what makes it work -- because the Celtics have unraveled over these last few weeks, and also because Perkins transformed Oklahoma City and unleashed Ibaka (who no longer has to defend everyone else's best low-post guy) as a devastating weak side shot blocker and general menace. The Thunder can go to war with anyone now.
Anyway, it's easy to concentrate on the trade's watershed effect on Boston -- in retrospect, Danny Ainge should have just flown the whole team to Dallas, crammed the players into a limo, had them do the turn around Dealey Plaza and just started shooting at them from the Grassy Knoll -- and inadvertently skip over how brilliant it was for Oklahoma City. Their team makes sense now.