MIAMI — There are those Celtics’ fans who now cringe after every victory, stewing in front of their HDTV, screaming at the clear picture of the baby-faced Brad Stevens, upset when Avery Bradley drains a midrange jumper or Jared Sullinger completes a putback.
These fans are rooting for an implosion, a Boston breakdown that would result in a high lottery pick and one of those college superstars who opened their season this weekend. These fans are not betraying their beloved organization, they are not traitors. They feel as if complete disintegration this season would result in a return to prominence in the future.
So it would have been fascinating to watch those who support the Celtics’ tanking this season in the waning moments of Saturday’s game against the Miami Heat. The Celtics appeared headed for defeat with Dwyane Wade stepping to the free throw line for two shots with the Heat leading by 2.
It was a valiant effort but appeared one more check in the loss column, one more step toward Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker or Drew Gordon. There must have been a feeling of uneasiness when Wade missed both free throws, including his futile attempt to hit the rim on the second shot with 0.6 left. It was nothing but air and the Celtics received the ball with one more chance to win.
Those nachos, bottles of Sam Adams and Red Bulls consumed during this rather exciting game must have been regurgitated after Jeff Green caught a Gerald Wallace pass in the right corner, Kelly Olynyk screened Chris Bosh and Green hit a step-back 3-pointer at the buzzer for the 111-110 win. This does nothing for the Celtics’ chances of landing a premium lottery pick, but it does everything to increase the confidence, chemistry, and purpose of the players who are fighting nightly for respect.
One thing has been apparent with the Celtics during their first seven games of the Brad Stevens era: they play hard for 48 minutes. They may not execute. They may make absurd turnovers and questionable court decisions, but these Celtics are playing passionately for Stevens, which is an extremely encouraging sign for his future and that of his team.
Rooting for the Celtics to tank, essentially to fail every night, leaving a hard-to-shake stench over the organization is rather ridiculous. While victories aren’t as precious or meaningful as they were during the Big Three era, success is still important and development is the primary goal.
Olynyk, Phil Pressey, Vitor Faverani, Avery Bradley, Sullinger, and Green will develop more quickly for a 35-win team than a 15-win team. And even 15 wins offer no guarantees for a top lottery pick. The main concern for Celtics’ faithful should be whether Stevens is establishing a winning culture and whether the players who could be cornerstones are improving throughout the season.
The Eastern Conference is beginning to take shape and the theme is mediocre. Fourteen of the 15 teams in the East have three or four losses. (Indiana is the lone undefeated team in the NBA). And the teams who were supposed to unseat the Celtics for a playoff spot — Washington, Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto — don’t appear appreciably better than the Celtics.
The Celtics played the Miami Heat practically even for 48 minutes. A game that was considered a guaranteed loss, the second of a back-to-back against the two-time defending world champions, turned into the biggest victory of the early season.
“It was only a matter of time, it took a little while before that confidence came,” Green said. “We’ve just got to keep building. We can’t get lackadaisical with our progress.”
What should be encouraging is the players are feeling more of an identity. They were a bunch of jumbled pieces last month, uncertain of roles or playing time. Stevens is slowly transforming this ragtag bunch into a productive roster.
“We’re a hard-working team that doesn’t have a superstar,” Bradley said. “We work together and depend on each other. We trust each other. That’s the only way we’re going to win. We have to bring it every night.”
No Celtics’ fan should be displeased with a victory at Miami, especially with the way the Heat have toyed with Boston teams over the years, only to pull away in the final minutes. They shouldn’t cringe because they have won three straight games, or because Green is beginning to emerge as the primary offensive weapon, or Jordan Crawford is playing the most productive minutes of his career, or Sullinger is rounding into shape.
Fans should be pleased with what’s transpired over the past four days — three wins, including two on the road in the final seconds. While the priority this season is not championship and perhaps not even the playoffs, there is nothing enjoyable or satisfying about conceding games or losing to land a desirable draft pick.
Allow team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to determine the best course of action for the improvement of the organization. He has unquestionably planned for the possibility that the Celtics would be better than expected. Progress and development shouldn’t be discouraged or frowned upon. Saturday nights like these are supposed to be fun, right?Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe