The NBA playoffs opened up for business over the weekend but for the first time in seven years, the Celtics do not have a seat at the table.
Since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived in Boston in the summer of 2007, the Celtics place in the Eastern Conference bracket has been a given, complete with a championship, a near miss of a second one, and a scintillating run at a third Finals appearance in five years back in 2012. And while we all knew for months that the Celts wouldn’t even get a whiff of the postseason this year, it still feels pretty strange witnessing this year’s tournament get rolling without them.
But instead of lamenting the Celtics’ absence from the proceedings, let’s focus on all there is for Cs fans to cheer. Starting just over 200 miles south, we have the Brooklyn Nets, the East’s No. 6 seed who stole homecourt advantage from the Toronto Raptors in their first round series with a 94-87 win on Saturday.
In case you just woke up from a very long nap, the Nets feature a couple of dudes named Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and Pierce played a huge role in the Game 1 win over the Raptors, scoring nine straight points in the fourth quarter with the outcome still in the balance on a variety of his typical herky-jerky stepbacks, off-balance jumpers and lightning quick first step drives to the rim that silenced the Raptors rambunctious crowd and signified his 15-year tenure in Boston (Pierce was later incredibly described by the great Netw3rk of Grantland as “some kind of bioorganic troll engine that runs on the energy generated when the cheers and optimism of opposing fans are sublimated into groans and muttered curses.”). Pierce, of course, lives for moments like those, and wasn’t at all shy in the aftermath of his heroics.
The Nets, who were jostling for the title of biggest laughingstock in the league with the crosstown Knicks before ripping off a 34-17 stretch after Jan. 1, aren’t exactly a favorite to win a title, their odds to do so listed at 25-1 on the eve of the playoffs. But should they get past Toronto and the Miami Heat beats Charlotte in their first round series (note: they will), we’ll have ourselves a pretty juicy Eastern semifinal. Brooklyn was a perfect 4-for-4 against the Heat during the regular season and how awesome would it be to see Pierce and Garnett get another crack at LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh when it matters most? Celtics fans should be licking their chops.
Next, we travel west to Lala land, where the Clippers, coached by one Doc Rivers (you may have heard of him), are locked up with the Golden State Warriors in their opening round battle. The Warriors stole the home court from Doc’s Clips in a hail of brutal officiating and missed opportunities on Saturday, with Blake Griffin, who is the key to the series for L.A., playing just 19 minutes due to foul trouble. The Clippers can be shaky defensively, and when they struggled at that end on Saturday, particularly against the pick-and-roll, Golden State took advantage in its 109-105 win.
This looked like it could be a tough matchup for the Clippers even before they lost Game 1 but with all due respect to the Warriors great point guard Steph Curry, L.A. has the two best players in the series in Griffin and Chris Paul and should still advance, especially since Golden State’s best interior defender, Andrew Bogut, is out with a broken rib, opening up plenty of room for Griffin provided he stays away from the foul issues that plagued him over the weekend. And sure enough, the Clippers not only bounced back in Game 2 last night, they ran the Warriors right out of the gym to the tune of a 40-point beatdown that evened the series at one game apiece.
You see what I’m getting at? Imagine, if you will, an NBA Finals featuring the Nets of the Truth and KG versus Doc’s Clippers (and old friend Big Baby Davis is on that L.A. roster too). It would be sick. Who would Celts fans root for, the all-time coach or the all-time, first ballot Hall of Famers?
Of course, a lot needs to break right for such a scenario to play out. The Clippers, who have never won a playoff series after dropping Game 1 since moving to L.A. in 1984, will have to run some kind of tough gauntlet to get there. It’s not like beating the Warriors, who have become something of an archrival, will be a breeze. And if they do that, Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City and then Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the mighty San Antonio Spurs are the likeliest to be next in line should both of those teams take care of their own business. And if the Nets do wind up beating Toronto then get past the Heat and can advance, it’s perfectly conceivable that they will be completely spent in the aftermath and go down in the Eastern finals.
But it could happen. Stranger things certainly have. And if it does, and the Celts themselves wind up with a top 3 pick on Draft Lottery night on May 20, well… that feels like it would make for a pretty decent spring for Celtics fans, doesn’t it?