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Bob Ryan

Celtics won’t, and shouldn’t, tank the season

Bucks forward John Henson (center) got off a shot while sandwiched between Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley during Saturday night’s game. The Celtics aren’t the hot item on the sports scene, but they’re still full of Celtic pride, Bob Ryan writes.

Tannen Maury/EPA

Bucks forward John Henson (center) got off a shot while sandwiched between Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley during Saturday night’s game. The Celtics aren’t the hot item on the sports scene, but they’re still full of Celtic pride, Bob Ryan writes.

Yoo-hoo! Yo! Over here!

Remember us? The Boston Celtics?

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Yeah, the Boston Celtics. Shamrocks. Leprechauns. And championships? 17 championships, the same number as those other three guys put together. We’re who they want to be.

OK, OK, we’re not the flavor du jour. There’s no denying that. The Red Sox are champs — again. The Bruins are an elite NHL team with a very reasonable chance to go back to the Stanley Cup Final — again. The Patriots are the hardiest of NFL perennials, the Belichick-Brady partnership remains intact, and no one who follows the sport would be surprised if on the night of Feb. 2, 2014, they were playing for a Super Bowl championship — again.

All right, all right, we’re not in that class. We’re in, ahem, transition. No one is paying any attention to us. About the only thing most people know about us is that when John Havlicek retired, our coach was 2 years old. When Larry Bird retired, he was 15. Oh, we could go on and on.

We just had a nice little run, and it would have been nice if we had gotten more out of it. Wasn’t that 2007-08 season fun? We were a complete and total kick-butt team, from start to finish. People who have been around a while say no Celtics team ever played harder for an entire season. We never took a night off, not one. We were 100 percent pedal-to-the-metal for 82 games and the entire playoffs, and we concluded our business by burying the Lakers in that glorious Game 6, and, come on, I know you know the final score, so lemme hear it.

131-92! Yes, 131-92! One more time, as Count Basie might say . . . 131-92!

Take that, Tinseltown!

Sorry. We can’t help but get a little emotional about that one.

But, darn it, we coulda/shoulda/woulda won another one or two. But things happen. Kevin Garnett was hurt for the playoffs in 2009. Then we couldn’t finish the job against the Lakers in 2010. Ooh, that one hurts. We’re up 3 late in Game 7, and then we do the worst thing any Laker opponent could ever do back then, which is allow Derek Fisher to get off a three, and — bang! — we go from 3 up to 6 down in 94 seconds. Worse yet, that cuckoobird Ron Artest (he was not yet Metta World Peace) goes off for 20. Kobe did diddly, and we still didn’t beat them. Yeah, that stings.

We even had one more shot. We’ve got the Heat down, 3-2, in 2012 and we’re home for Game 6. But LeBron LeBrons us in Game 6 with 45 and we just plain sucked wind in the fourth quarter of Game 7. Doc Rivers swears that no matter what LeBron did we still should have won Game 6. We were gassed in Game 7, and he says he can live with that.

Anyway, we squeezed six competitive, interesting years out of what was supposed to be a three-year plan featuring Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, and now here we are, Boston’s Forgotten Men in this City of Champions.

We’re not stupid. We know what you’re saying. We’re stinky, but not stinky enough. You would have been happier if we had gone 0-82. Then you assume we get Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker and all our problems would be solved. But to you, we’re worthless. We’re supposed to lose in order to make you feel better.

How do you think that makes us feel?

See, here’s the deal. All these 21st century championships have completely distorted the sports consciousness around here. And those sports talk shows, all the Dennises, Callahans, Minihanes, Touchers, Riches, Greshes, Zolaks, Felgers, Mazzes, Holleys, and Salks — and that goes for you, too, Tanguay — have convinced people that every season for every sports team is worthless if it doesn’t end in a championship. But in the real world it doesn’t work that way.

In the real world just about everybody goes home empty-handed, every year. There are 122 professional sports franchises encompassed in the NFL, NHL, NBA, and Major League Baseball, and each year only four of them can win. No championship should ever be taken for granted. Ask the people of Cleveland. You think when the Browns won the 1964 NFL championship anyone thought a half-century would come and go with no Cleveland team winning a major sports championship? Impossible.

But as Cleveland sports fans know all too well, that is precisely what has occurred. Do you know how many championships we’ve had since the 1964-65 NBA season?

19!

And eight of them have come since the 2002 Super Bowl. Do you honestly think that in any conceivable manner the people in Boston are somehow inherently worthier than the fine people of Cleveland?

Yes, we digress. Sorry.

The issue, as we understand it, is that we are supposed to — what’s the euphemism? — “tank” this season. We’re supposed to go out there every night with the intention of losing. Sorry, uh-uh, not gonna happen. Nor should it.

First of all, it’s no guarantee of anything. We had the worst record once upon a time and we wound up with Nos. 3 and 6. If you want more detail, consult a Mr. Pitino down there in Louisville. We stunk it out another time and got the fifth pick. In addition to which, do you really think the bosses threw all this money at Brad Stevens and then asked him to perfect his losing technique?

No, we’re gonna give it our best shot, and whatever happens, happens. We’ve got a couple of young Keeper Bigs in Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk. Jordan Crawford is anything but boring. We play hard. We’re trying to earn your respect. We’re professionals. We’ve got dignity.

If you stick with us, we will surprise you every now and then. Not many teams can put seven or eight guys in double figures, but we can. We’re not great, but we’re not hopeless, either. And as far as the future is concerned, we’ve got an additional first-round pick from the Nets and the Clippers in each of the next five years.

No, we’re not the Red Sox, Bruins or Patriots, and more power to them. We’re rooting for them, too. But don’t be distracted or overwhelmed by all the noise out there. We’re not heading to a 2014 championship, but we are members in good standing of the greatest basketball league in the world and we will do our best to give you a show.

Finally, please remember you are living in the most blessed sports town in America. These are the Good Old Days, and that includes us. We’re just a little behind schedule.

Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.
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