Most Boston sports fans at this hour are having a love-hate relationship with the Celtics and the Red Sox.
They love the Celtics.
And they hate the Red Sox.
It’s amazing. And the Sox are hoping it’s a temporary condition.
Widely perceived as gritty and the embodiment of team spirit, the Celtics are in the second round of the NBA playoffs and Saturday night played host to the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden.
A few miles down Storrow Drive, the basement-dwelling Red Sox played the Cleveland Indians, hoping to avoid more ugly/awkward situations that might result in a cascade of boos raining down on the heads of the local nine.
“Right now, it seems as though the Celtics are the true team, in terms of the ideals we had growing up,’’ said Steve Sheppard, a writer and musician from Nantucket who has been a fan of both teams since the 1960s. “They seem to be coming together for a cause. They seem to care.
“Whereas the Red Sox, with just a few exceptions, seem to care only about their paychecks.’’
The 2011-12 Celtics are basketball’s Wheeze Kids. Paul Pierce (34), Kevin Garnett (36 on Saturday), and Ray Allen (36) together have accumulated more NBA miles than many teams’ 12-man rosters.
The oft-wounded Celtics gasped to a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference but are favored to advance to the conference finals, where they presumably would face the nationally loathed Miami Heat for a chance to represent the East in the NBA Finals.
“They remind me of the 1969 Celtics,’’ an aging team that won the championship after finishing in fourth place, said Paul Comerford, a banker from Marshfield who has been a fan since Bill Russell & Co. won 11 championships in 13 seasons. “They are an old group of warriors, making one last stand together. They are a team of great leadership at the top in Doc Rivers.
“They may not have enough to go all the way, but they’ll give it everything they have.’’
That’s not the feeling at Fenway, where a fan showed up wearing a bag on his head when Josh Beckett was routed by the Indians and roasted by the crowd Thursday night.
The Sox have the third-highest payroll in baseball, the highest-priced tickets in baseball, the longest home sellout streak in big league history, and a huge image problem.
Last September’s 7-20 finish, the greatest collapse in the game’s history, has yielded to a spring of front office chaos and terrible baseball. The Sox went into Saturday night’s game with a record of 13-19, losers of eight of their last 10.
Dr. Charles Steinberg, senior adviser to Sox president and chief executive Larry Lucchino, said, “This start has been like a nightmare, and we suffer as our fans suffer, daily, when our team loses.
“We have faith in our organization, however, and we don’t underestimate the loyalty and devotion that exists out there among Red Sox fans. We’ve been through hard times before.’’
The Sox of 2011 were mocked for drinking beer in the clubhouse, ordering chicken from Popeye’s during games, and disrespecting manager Terry Francona with a culture of entitlement and carelessness.
Under new manager Bobby Valentine, the Sox of 2012 have suffered the same malaise. Most recently, Beckett, the ringleader of the chicken-and-beer implosion, infuriated fans (but not his bosses, apparently) by golfing on an off day, after it was announced he would not make his scheduled start because of a strained lat muscle.
The day after missing his start, three days after playing 27 at Wollaston, Beckett was one of several starters who did not pitch in a 17-inning loss to the Orioles. Red Sox outfielder Darnell McDonald was asked to pitch the 17th inning and coughed up a game-losing three-run homer.
This came two weeks after the Sox were routed, 15-9, after taking a 9-0 lead in a nationally televised game against the Yankees. According to Valentine, that was supposed to be “rock bottom.’’
Friday’s Boston sports pages and radio shows offered a stunning juxtaposition of the two local teams. Headlines touting Garnett’s remarkable 28-point, 14-rebound effort in a series-clinching, 3-point win against the Hawks ran alongside Beckett’s poor performance and tone-deaf postgame remarks (“My off day is my off day. . . . We get 18 off days a year’’).
Beckett makes $17 million annually and starts approximately 35 games in a healthy season. Garnett makes $21 million per year, but knows enough not be seen at the Leo J. Martin Golf Course when he’s sitting out with an injury. While Beckett alienated fans with his stubborn and dismissive attitude, Garnett was saying: “I put a lot of work into my craft. I take it seriously.’’
“I think fans feel very good about what our team is doing,’’ said Danny Ainge, Celtics president of basketball operations. “I think we have taken on a little bit of the underdog role.
“Fans like the way the Big Three have responded. We started slowly and we’ve had injuries, but the Big Three are still showing what they have in the tank. They feel they still have something to prove.
“We’re the number-one defensive team in the league, in spite of not being tall and not rebounding. We’re feisty and competitive.’’
It’s hard to find any Sox fan who would describe the 2012 team as “feisty and competitive.’’ “Bloated and underachieving’’ are better adjectives for the Olde Towne Team.
“These Red Sox are more and more like the dirtbags of 2001, and the 25 players/25 cabs teams with the inmates running the asylum we used to have in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s,’’ said Comerford.
“It’s very distasteful the way everything has been. It’s obvious the owners dropped the ball and did not change anything of substance from last year.
“They don’t know what to do. Bobby Valentine can’t say anything about anybody. He can’t call players out. It’s disgusting to watch this team play right now.’’
“I grew up watching both teams, and whenever the Sox broke our heart, the Celtics saved the day,’’ said John Iannacci of Lunenburg. “They’ve always been there, and this particular team I love watching.
“You know they’re giving everything they’ve got. Whether they win the championship or not, you appreciate what they’ve been through.
“Compare that with the Sox. I couldn’t be more disappointed. History changed with those players when they brought Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez in and paid them huge money. Everybody started thinking about money. Whatever they had working for them, I think it’s all gone now.’’
There. Yesterday’s champs are today’s bums. It’s fragile and fickle, and it can change quickly.
Ainge, who played major league baseball with the Toronto Blue Jays before joining the Celtics as a star guard, said: “It’s about winning. When you lose, people are always looking for reasons.
“In my opinion, there’s often not much different going on. It’s like when people go through a divorce. They talk about someone not putting their clothes away or the toothbrush in the sink, instead of the big issues.
“This is what I love about the fans in Boston. They make it challenging. If you don’t win, they want to find a reason why you’re not winning. Those reasons are not always accurate.’’