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One night In March

Posted by Bob Ryan, Globe Staff  March 6, 2008 11:02 AM

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Now that's what I'm talkin' about...

Forget about the fact that by winning the Celtics seal a 2-1 season's series edge over the dreaded Pistons, something that would serve as a tiebreaker if needed. Forget about the fact that the victory, combined with convenient losses by the Nets, Pacers, and Hawks, makes the Celtics the first NBA team to clinch a playoff spot (with an astonishing 23 games remaining). Forget about the bragging rights the Celtics now have (until the seemingly inevitable Eastern Conference Finals begin in May).

The real significance of what transpired at the Gahden on Wednesday night was what took place when the game was over. I was there strictly in an observer's capacity, so I blew out of there as soon as the game concluded. And as soon as I left the building, what did I encounter? What I encountered was an exiting crowd almost giddy with excitement. Their Celtics had just given them the gift of a memorable performance on an otherwise drab evening in early March. Their Celtics had just delivered the goods.

These were people who, like their forebearers in 1968, '78 and '88, had come into a late season game full of anticipation. They had spent all day antsy and itchy, eager to get on with it. They had spent all day thinking about the matchups, thinking about the ramifications and thinking about seeing plain good old-fashioned basketball.

This is what the Celtics have done: they have restored meaning to the regular season. They have given people a proper season's experience.

This is what matters. Do not listen to people who say it's only about championships and only about the playoffs. It can't be if there is to be any meaning to this whole thing known as fandom. The fact is that the playoff dynamic is quirky. Luck and circumstance play a large role. If you invest in a sports team for the sole purpose of seeing it through to a championship, and for no other reason, the overwhelming odds are that you will
be disappointed.

I beg Patriots fans to stop moping. Their team provided them with four unmatched months worth of thrills and satisfaction. Their team elevated and dignified the game. They came within one Asante Samuel INT, one Eli Manning miracle escape (and, from what I now gather, one monumentally uncalled hold on Richard Seymour), and one sensational David Tyree catch of winning the Super Bowl. They were 35 seconds from victory. You know what? There is no truer statement in sports than "You can't win 'em all." Sometimes, it's just not your day. I urge Patriots fans to recall the many glowing feelings they had watching this team play so magnificently for 18 games. That is what it's all about.

And I now call upon the Celtics fans to do the same. Could this team win it all? Sure. It could. I don't think it will, but it sure could, and I'm anxious to see it try. But if it doesn't, does that mean that all these wonderful exhibitions of, yup, Celtic basketball we have all been witness to in the months of November, December, January, February, and, doubtless, April will not have happened? Will it erase the memories of nights such as Wednesday, when their team walked the walk against a quality opponent? It should not.

I have made that same walk out of that same door since the new Gahden opened in 1995. And I am here to tell you that I do not recall a comparable buzz. Now I'm sure it was that way on that Sunday afternoon when the Bombs Away team came from 20 back in the fourth quarter to beat the Nets in '02, but I worked that game and so by the time I left no one was around. That, of course, was a playoff game, so, sure, there was a buzz.

But I have made that walk many, many nights after regular season losses, and even routine regular season wins, or even pretty good regular season wins, and I have not been in the company of so many jabbering, smiling, flat-out deliriously happy people as I was on Wednesday. Everything they had spent all day wishing for had materialized. Their Celtics had come through, mucho big-time.

A few random thoughts about the game ...

Kevin Garnett was magnificent, of course. How about Paul Pierce restricting himself to 9 shots, but making the team's only threes, including what was perhaps the game's biggest basket? Kendrick Perkins had those 20 manly rebounds, to go with aggressive defense (and a couple or three defensive three-second violations) and smart finishing when needed. Ray Allen had an off-night offensively (1 for 9), but he buckled his chin strap for 8 rebounds and kept his head up for 5 assists. And did anyone even notice Rip Hamilton, save for one straightaway three-pointer? No, they did not. Give that credit to Ray Allen.

But the person who intrigued me the most was Rajon Rondo. How did you like the way he responded to that 18-point Chauncey Billups third quarter? That was a Bleep You Statement Dunk if I've ever seen one. And I just loved his demeanor in the fourth quarter, capping it off with that tough leaner in the lane. He just seems to gain more and more court maturity with every passing game.

And Big Baby. How much do we love Big Baby? It's almost becoming a cliche now, but I don't know any other way to say it: He just knows how to play. We're just not seeing this kind of instinct and precocious court in a package that's 6-8 and Lord-Knows-What; that's all. I just know he's very difficult to keep from getting to the offensive boards, that he can pass, that he runs around setting picks, that he works extremely hard on defense and that he has a tremendous left hand. He's very effective, and he's just flat-out F-U-N.

Will this game have any true bearing on the playoffs? No. But right now I'm not concerned with the playoffs. Back in 1986 I honestly believed that the Celtics of Larry, Kevin, Chief, D.J., Danny, Walton, et al had rendered meaningless the concept of the meaningless game. This team is on its way to doing the same thing.

This Celtics team gave everyone who loves basketball in this town something to look forward to all day Wednesday, and then it put on an exhilarating show on Wednesday night. That's what I'm talkin' about.

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About bob ryan's blog Opinions, observations and anecdotes from Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan.
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Bob is an award-winning columnist for the Globe and the host of "Globe 10.0" on Boston.com.

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