Say this: They’re consistent.
In this case, however, in this fading winter of sudden discontent, the Bruins and Celtics’ regularity is nothing of which to boast. Both teams have fallen flat, giving pause and concern where there was once hope of dual June parties rocking the Hub.
Following last night’s brutal 127-121 loss to the Bulls -- donned in green for the occasion, if not to rub it in the Celtics’ faces a bit -- Boston’s defending world champs are now just 3-5 for the month of March, a mark shared by its Garden cohabitants. Tonight doesn’t get any easier for the walking wounded, as they welcome the Miami Heat and likely MVP runner-up Dwyane Wade to the Garden.
All of a sudden, the Celtics have fallen 4½ games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference, and are just a half-game in front of Orlando for the third spot, which could necessitate a pair of playoff series without home court advantage.
Beneath the parquet tomorrow night, the Bruins play for the first time since Sunday, a stretch of downtime most welcome for curing whatever ails them. Chicago didn’t do them any favors either last night. The lead is down to four points in the East over New Jersey -- the Devils were 3-2 winners over the Blackhawks last night -- with the woeful Kings arriving tomorrow night on Causeway, where the Bruins have won all three games this month.
Despite their similar losing ways during the Ides, one of these things is indeed not like the other. The Celtics, trying to survive without Kevin Garnett for the past few weeks, will get a much-needed boost as early as Friday when their best player, who sprained his knee in Utah one month ago tomorrow, may finally be ready to take the court again. While the injury list seemingly grows each day (add Ray Allen, Leon Powe, and Rajon Rondo today), be grateful that a majority of the wounds require little more than band-aids and stitches in lieu of “season-ending surgery.”
With the playoffs still a month away, there’s time for the Celtics to right things, get healthy, and hold onto the No. 2 playoff slot, though the top seed may quickly be falling out of their grasp. Whether or not this group, as constituted, really looks like a title-worthy team is a debatable, and we won't begin to get an answer until they are at full strength with Garnett, Allen, Rondo, and Paul Pierce reunited. But hey, did you think you’d be at a parade last year when just a few weeks before you were biting your nails off during Game 7 against Atlanta?
The Bruins, on the other hand, have already gone through an injury-plagued stretch of their own, and since then, they haven't played with the same fire that preceded it. But there are positive signs if you look at the numbers. Phil Kessel, who post-mono has been a shell of the dazzling player he was earlier this season, will enter tomorrow with four goals in his last three games, as many scores as he had amassed since Jan. 3. And Sunday’s stinker against Pittsburgh aside, when he certainly wasn’t helped by the zebras with whistles, Tim Thomas remains the league’s top goaltender. And 99 is better than 95, right?
In reality, the Bruins aren’t as good a team as they showed in November. The real question now, of course is, are they as bad as they have showed over the last 20 games?
It's been a lack of focus and intensity that has plagued Marc Savard and company more than anything this past month-plus, it’s nothing a little seven-game series in April can’t remedy. I mean, look, it’s a totally different beast, but picture yourself getting ready to watch tomorrow night’s game. Now, picture that same scenario in Game 1. There’s more anticipation, more belly-aching, more hootin’ and hollerin’. There’s probably a lot more beer.
These guys are no different. Complacency can be a serious downfall for this team in the late weeks of the season, but until they outright lose the President’s Cup (which is of some value this season seeing as Boston is winless on the road since a Feb. 17 victory over the Hurricanes), talk to me in April. Hey, maybe losing out on the top spot is the motivation this team needs right now.
Oh, and have you noticed those free-falling Canadiens are No. 8-bound these days? Think that might be a good first round to get the juices flowing?