Boston fans are a unique bunch. The region is devoted to its teams, even though the fans aren’t afraid to shower those squads with boos when they aren’t satisfied with effort level or performance.
To the casual observer, Sunday’s dismal showing by the Celtics in Game 4 would have qualified as one of those instances for a crowd to boo. The Cavs blew the Celtics out of the water in the first half, building a 21-point lead. Isaiah Thomas couldn’t hit a shot (0-for-7) from field. Cleveland grabbed a countless number of offensive rebounds. The Celtics had an array of unforced turnovers. It was ugly basketball for the hosts, plain and simple.
Yet, the Celtics kept fighting. They scratched and clawed their way back into the game, cutting the deficit to six points in the game’s final minute before a missed three-point shot by Luigi Datome officially closed the door on the team’s comeback chances. The Cavs finished off the sweep with a 101-93 win, their third straight victory by eight points in the series.
Despite the defeat, the Garden did not respond with boos or silence upon seeing their team swept. Instead, the capacity crowd delivered a standing ovation as the final buzzer hit, before breaking into a “Let’s go Celtics” chant.
The surreal moment was probably one of the first and only times you’ll see a team get an ovation after losing four straight games in the postseason. Still, the gesture was an appreciation from a savvy fan base that knew this group overachieved during their final three months of the season. The Celtics didn’t have the talent or experience to stand a chance against the Cavs, but they still remained competitive with the Eastern Conference favorites for the majority of the series.
The moment was somewhat reminiscent of the closing moments of Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, when the Garden crowd chanted “Let’s go Celtics” for several minutes, even though LeBron and the Heat had blown out the hosts.
After that game, the Celtics locker room was thankful for that kind of unprecedented support. The same was true for Sunday’s contest.
“That’s legit man,” Evan Turner said of the standing ovation. “Because there’s no sugarcoating on that type of emotion. To be here the whole game and really earn their respect…that’s huge.”
“It meant a lot,” Avery Bradley added. “That’s why every single game we go out here when we are at home and try to give it our all for those guys. They come out here and support us no matter what. There could have been a few fans that came tonight, thinking we had no chance to win. They were cheering for us the whole night, even when we were down by 20 points. They gave us life. We just appreciate our fans. They are amazing.”
Brad Stevens couldn’t help but rave about the atmosphere in his first playoff experience in Boston as well.
“I thought both games, the crowd gave us a chance,” Stevens declared. “We were giving ourselves some chances, too, but the crowd was really – I mean, it was fantastic. It’s something that you want to be a part of. But, it’s like I told the guys in there, I’m really pleased with a lot of things. I really think we’ve shown a lot of growth, I think we can get a lot better. But none of us signed up to play for the Boston Celtics for a quick exit. And that’s something that is important to keep in mind moving forward. Because that crowd is as good as it gets and the longer that you play – I can’t imagine what that would be like.”
Stevens and Danny Ainge will likely try to use the Garden support as part of their recruiting pitch this offseason to try to bring more elite talent to Boston. It’s a tool that Turner believes should help the franchise stand out to free agents.
“I think regardless of what you think, Boston is always a destination, whether we make the playoffs or not,” Turner said. “Just the energy. I talk to some of my friends here who come play and they say ‘the crowd is crazy and fan base is crazy,’ even when we weren’t in a playoff race at the time. People still showed up and it’s a good atmosphere. I think once you come here, it’s about basketball and succeeding.”