The 2015-16 Boston Celtics, coming off an impressive 116-93 win over the scorching-hot Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday night at the Garden, have already won 37 games during this impressive, renaissance season.
The 2015-16 Boston Bruins, coming off an impressive 4-2 victory over the Western Conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night at the Garden, have already won 36 games during this season of franchise misdirection.
The Celtics, armed with a surplus of upcoming draft picks, more than the local team can even possibly use on its own, stood firm at the NBA’s recent trading deadline, and were, more or less, universally praised within city limits for not sacrificing the future for what might have been a foolhardy belief they can realistically compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference title this season.
The Boston Bruins, who hold their own boatload of options for this summer’s NHL Draft, failed to trade one of their most productive players this season in Loui Eriksson, and still surrendered a few picks in exchange for some defensive and scoring help as they look to secure a spot in this season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Just in case you hadn’t noticed, there seems to be an overwhelming deviation in impressions when it comes to the local NHL and NBA entrants, given seemingly polar opposite assessments of each team’s potential for the immediate postseason, and its long-term viability.
The Celtics’ win over the Blazers was Portland’s first road loss since Jan. 16. At 37-25, Boston remains in third place in the Eastern Conference, only 4 1/2 games behind the Toronto Raptors in the Atlantic Division.
The Bruins’ win over the Blackhawks was only Boston’s 15th at home this season. Yet at 36-23-6, the Bruins woke up on Friday in third place in their own Atlantic Division, only two points behind both the leading Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning.
So, what gives?
It’s not like there is a segment of Boston sports fans that seriously expects either the Bruins or Celtics to be reason for a downtown parade come June. And yet, the expectations and resulting ambiance around both professional basketball and hockey in Boston this season could lead someone to interpret that the Celtics are on the fast track to the promised land while the Bruins are destined to go another 39 years without hoisting a Cup.
There’s plenty of reason to support the theory for each side. The Celtics are nearing the prime receiving end (James Young not included) of their franchise-altering deal in 2013 when they dealt longtime superstars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for future first-round draft picks. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has already proven himself shrewd enough to pull off landmark moves like that swap and the one for Garnett nine years ago, never mind the theft of Isaiah Thomas from the Phoenix Suns just last season. All things assumed, the Celtics are but one more star player away from being a perennial contender to become the NBA Finals doormat of the Golden State Warriors for at least the next half-decade or so.
The Bruins, meanwhile, are nearing the definitive end of their own franchise-altering deal from three years ago, back when then-GM Peter Chiarelli and vice president Cam Neely thought it prudent to ship emerging stud Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars for talent in every way not on the same level as their former No. 2 pick, if mostly because the team was seemingly dealing with a frat boy in a professional realm of sport.
Yet, while the Celtics remain in wait for their promising returns on Pierce and Garnett, whether it be via trade for a veteran, or the ability to select someone at the top of this year’s and next year’s drafts, the Bruins are already on the back nine with the Seguin swap, prepared to say farewell to Eriksson this summer in free agency. He’s a nice player, but his significance seems laughable when considered against the level of talent (77 points with the Stars in 71 games) surrendered for him, Reilly Smith (now with the Florida Panthers), Matt Fraser (Rockford IceHogs), and Joe Morrow. Come this summer, Morrow will carry the torch for the entire Phil Kessel-Seguin trade lineage.
Joe Freaking Morrow.
It may be easy to classify each fan base, but this dynamic isn’t a matter of Celtics fans being shiny, happy optimists willing to be raked over the coals while Bruins fans represent the pessimistic underbelly of Boston’s dark side. Each team has constructed a core with integral pieces, from Thomas to Patrice Bergeron, Marcus Smart to Brad Marchand, and Jared Sullinger to Tuukka Rask.
But when it came to each team’s respective trading deadline last month, Celtics analysts and fans were in agreement that there were very few pieces on the team, as constituted, that they would want to surrender in a trade. Bruins fans? They would have driven everybody on the roster other than Bergeron or Marchand to the airport if just given enough notice.
There’s currently an angst among Bruins fans that has never become as pervasive among Celtics fans in recent years, like forever-paranoid Red Sox fans wondering why Patriots fans are always so damned giddy. There’s always seemed to be promise when the Celtics have fallen on hard times, an Oden-Durant-Duncan around the corner to cure all the ills, even though such a prescription has never become a reality. Even now, the Celtics continue to somewhat defy the very makeup of the NBA with a rebuilding process that is leaning toward rapid rather than the more grueling norm.
It’s been worse for the Bruins, who have never quite bottomed out (except for, you know, thanks Dave Lewis), but instead more consistently delivered melancholy mediocrity. The Bruins won their first Stanley Cup in almost four decades back in 2011. During the preceding title-less drought, they missed the playoffs just five times, but weren’t particularly close to a banner at any point. Most notably, Boston wrapped up just a single postseason series victory from 1998-2008 despite six postseason berths during that span.
It’s coming up on two years now since the Bruins, the President’s Trophy winners in 2014, followed a first-round win over the Detroit Red Wings by gagging against the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference semifinals. There was no postseason berth a year ago, and though there may be one in 2016, that fear of simply being just OK for another lengthy stretch of seasons is frightening for Bruins fans, many of whom still believe (and it’s hard to blame them) that playoff gate receipts are the ultimate goal for franchise owner Jeremy Jacobs and not necessarily another title banner to raise to the rafters.
But now, in the wake of the trading deadline, which was generally presumed to be the end of Eriksson’s time here, there are fewer draft picks to boast about after general manager Don Sweeney’s return that went without a single pulse of excitement.
Ainge, meanwhile, held onto Brooklyn’s 2016 pick, even as the likelihood of it being a No. 1 or 2 selection fades, while dodging rumors of Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Jimmy Butler, and Jahlil Okafor coming to Boston. He got the benefit of the public’s doubt, while Sweeney was roasted for putting the immediate, albeit foolhardy, aspirations for the current season ahead of the team’s long-term prognosis. Bruins fans have been in these year-to-year bouts with simply just being good enough.
This is why there is such a difference in post-deadline assessments of each team, despite their similar places in the early-March standings. Celtics fans have hope about what’s around the corner for their team. Bruins fans already had and lost that outlook for a variety of reasons.
The teams are essentially in the same place , but only one is on the rise. Only one understands what needs to be done in order for long-term stability.
In case you haven’t guessed, that seems less and less like the Bruins.
Memorable images from the old Garden