One year ago today…
Kevin Garnett didn’t want to come to Boston.
Paul Pierce wanted out.
Al Jefferson was untouchable.
Yi Jianlian and Corey Brewer were among the possible future Celtics.
One year ago today, this got you somewhat excited about what possibly was ahead for the Celtics:
Today, this does:
It simply can not be overstated enough just how remarkable this turnaround is, less than 365 days after the Celtics were perceived grasping at straws for a way out of the mess that went for Boston basketball. Last June, Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers were watching kids like Jeff Green, Julian Wright, and Keith Simmons in pre-draft workouts.
Tonight, they’ll watch the Celtics try and secure championship No. 17 on home soil.
For a franchise in perpetual flux for the better part of two decades, the unexpected developments of the past 12 months have to rank among the most unlikely stories in this town’s sports history. Thirteen months ago, Bostonians still had visions of Oden and Durant dancing away in their heads, a title a mere possibility within 4 or 5 years.
That was the best-case scenario. This is better.
On the evening of the draft, when Ainge pulled off a trade for Ray Allen, there was certainly a split of opinion. Some skewered the move as an obvious attempt to appease Pierce and keep him in town, a city where he’d have little chance to win an NBA title anytime soon. Others saw the deal as one that at least made the team relevant again, a long bounce back from their pathetic 2006-07 campaign.
A few weeks later, the pipe dream of Garnett became a reality, and along with it the outlandish suggestion that the Celtics could do what they hope to wrap up tonight.
From Boston laughingstocks to a Rolling Rally.
Tonight, the Celtics look to close out the Lakers in the latest chapter of their NBA domination. (After this series, the two teams combined will have won exactly half of all the NBA trophies handed out through history.) The Celtics can become the third area major franchise to win a title this decade, leaving only the Bruins hungry at the dinner table. They can complete the greatest one-year turnaround in NBA history with a world title, something that hasn’t been spontaneously celebrated in Boston proper since the Celtics did it a generation ago, months after a devastating Super Bowl loss for the Patriots.
In 1986, the Celtics were there to alleviate any post-Super Bowl hangovers that still existed. Tonight they can break Boston’s eight-month championship drought.
Of course, keep in mind that we know a thing or two about how comebacks work. All it takes is a stolen base, a bleeder up the middle, dramatic home runs hurtling into the morning, a cocky group of Jack Daniels-slamming players.
That whole “No team has ever…” is more a trap than anything. Sooner or later there is someone, one team that steps up and faces the ultimate challenge that none of its predecessors could manager.
No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA title. If the Lakers somehow manage to do so, they become the 2004 Red Sox in NBA lore. They are the ones celebrated for decades for completing what was once thought improbable. They become the team that’s the example of fighting past adversity.
The Celtics become the Yankees.
This is what Thursday’s win did to the Celtics. If they came home up 3-2, winning in comeback fashion on Sunday instead of Thursday, the Lakers wouldn’t have nearly the challenge they face now, or so it would seem. There’s no difference of course, except the Celtics had a 3-1 lead before Sunday, of which no team has ever blown.
The last time the Celtics lost two games in a row at home, it was March 14 and 24, vs. Utah and Philadelphia, respectively. They’ve lost at the Garden just once this postseason, to a Detroit team that is in most every way a better team than what the supposedly superior Western Conference offers in the Lakers. The possibility of them blowing the title is slim. Yet, we know things.
Only a fool would suggest that based on where the Celtics were 365 days ago, that if they were to lose the title over the next three days that the season should be considered an utter failure. And yet … well, based on where they are, isn’t it? Taste a little bit, and you’re ready for some more. When it’s as good as this, you’re going to be pretty angry is somebody denies you the dessert.
Yet, think back.
One year ago, tonight’s circumstances were an epic fantasy. Yi Jianlian was reality.
Win or not, that ought to put this month into perspective.
It was an improbable year that could have its final chapter written tonight at the Garden, where 22 years of drought can be fertilized by tears of joy.