The Celtics were right: the regular season doesn't matter.
That was apparent watching the Green upend the Orlando Magic, 92-88 in Game 1 of the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals yesterday afternoon, followed by the eighth-seeded Philadelphia Flyers blanking the seventh-seeded Montreal Canadiens, 6-0, in Game 1 of the NHL's Eastern Conference Finals.
The Celtics made us suffer through their somnambulant regular season and now they look quite capable of capturing their second NBA title in three seasons. In fact, they look like the best team in basketball.
Philadelphia's story started when they had to win a shootout on the final day of the regular season to even make the NHL playoffs. The fortuitous Flyers, who iced hockey season in the Hub in historic fashion by rallying from a 3-0 series deficit, now look like the 2004 Red Sox on skates.
We should all be so lucky as to have jobs where a disappointing day-to-day performance for six months can be rendered irrelevant by a month of distinguished work, to enjoy gainful employment where you can simply save your best for last.
Among the many enviable trappings of being a professionals athlete is the chance to wipe the slate clean come playoff time. Very few, if any other, vocations offer this opportunity.
Can you imagine if investment bankers could merely tell their customers to just wait until the playoffs and their portfolios will perform as advertised? Or if police officers could say don't worry about the crime rate it will decline when the playoffs roll around? How about auto mechanics saying they're going to wait until the playoffs to really fix that knocking noise your car is making?
Wouldn't happen, and that's why the NBA and NHL playoffs are a glaring reminder that those two sports have tedious, meaningless 82-game regular seasons, six months of playoff prologue signifying nothing. It is all an elaborate, revenue-generating ruse, and the fans are the ones getting jobbed.
Now, the regular season is significant in the NFL and major league baseball. In the NFL, every game is one 16th of your season. One loss can keep you from the playoffs. In baseball, the 162-game odyssey has more twists and turns than Storrow Drive, but it weeds out the four contenders in the American League and National League from the pretenders and often goes down to wire.
In the NBA and NHL, more than half of the 30 teams in each league (16) make the playoffs. A team like the Celtics can simply put it in cruise control, sit back and wait for the real games to began. Fourth seed, first seed, what's the difference? We're in.
"A lot of people would say with the talent the Celtics have they've underachieved this year. I don't really see it that way," Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said 10 days ago. "Our objectives were always to be ready for the playoffs."
The Celtics started their playoff run a month ago today with an 85-76 victory over the Miami Heat. They have been a different team than the injured and disinterested one we saw during the regular season, which in fairness was still a 50-win campaign. Doc Rivers' rejuvenated bunch is 9-3 in 12 playoff games.
During the regular season they beat the Cavaliers and the Magic a total of three times in eight tries. They've already beaten the two top-seeded Eastern Conference foes five times in seven games in the playoffs.
Routinely outrebounded during the regular season, during which they finished 29th among 30 clubs in rebounding, the Celtics are no longer bored by the regular season, so they're boarding. Boston has upped its rebounding average in the postseason to 39.6, a full rebound better than the regular season, and more importantly has outrebounded its opponents during the playoffs, 39.6 to 38.6.
The posterchild for the postseason is Rasheed Wallace. Say what you will about 'Sheed's indolent, disinterested regular season act, but ball don't lie and neither does he. Give him credit because at least he was honest all along about the playoffs being all that mattered.
The workmanlike Wallace who dove into the stands in Game 6 against Cleveland and scored 13 points and the savvy veteran who played outstanding defense on Dwight Howard yesterday while scoring 13 points bear little resemblance to the player we saw during the regular season.
Unlike the rest of us, 'Sheed figured out a long time ago when it counts and when it doesn't.
"One thing I'll say about Rasheed and he said it throughout, 'Doesn't matter what I do during the regular season; I will be judged for what I do in the playoffs.' I didn't want him to take that literally throughout the season," said Rivers. "But he's been terrific. He's a knowledgeable big who has a lot of game."
There was no clearer example of how the Celtics have become a different team in the playoffs than yesterday's game.
The last time the Celtics were in Orlando prior to yesterday was Jan. 28. They blew a 16-point second half lead and lost the game as Rashard Lewis blew by Kevin Garnett on the baseline for the game-winning bucket, Lewis's 23d points of the night.
Yesterday, the Celtics built a 20-point lead and withstood a furious Orlando rally. KG actually came racing out from the paint to chase Lewis off a 3-pointer in the corner in the fourth quarter. Garnett held Lewis to just 2 of 10 shooting from the field and 0 of 6 from beyond the arc.
Different time. Different team.
As Mike Brown, coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers (at least for now), said in trying to explain how the Celtics, whose championship reign had been all but eulogized prior to the postseason, buzzsawed his 61-win Cavs in six games: "The regular season is a lot different than the postseason."
Amen to that.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.