You’re never as good as you look when you win and you’re never as bad as you look when you lose.
Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver said this regularly back in the 1970s when the Orioles were usually very good. Earl’s wisdom is my takeaway from a weekend watching the Celtics and Bruins.
The Celtics are up. The Bruins are down.
The Celtics demolished the defending World Champion Toronto Raptors, 112-94, in the Orlando bubble Sunday afternoon. It was the first game of a best-of-seven conference semifinal and gave a legion of Green People hope that their team can advance to the conference finals and maybe make it to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
The Bruins were spanked by the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-1, Saturday and trail their second-round series three games to one as they prepare for a potential elimination game Monday night in the Toronto bubble. The Bruins have been outscored, 10-2, since the end of Game 2 and it feels like their season is over.
We never learn. We always put extra weight on the last thing we saw. That’s why we’ve got visions of the Celtics in the Finals while we prepare obituaries for a Bruins team that still has four veterans from the Cup-winning squad of 2011.
We should know better.
It was just a year ago that the Celtics looked indomitable when they beat the top-seeded Bucks, 112-90, in Milwaukee in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series. When the Celtics took an early lead in Game 2, I remember thinking they were going to sweep the Bucks. Instead, Milwaukee won four straight to send the Celtics home for the summer. Game 5 was a 116-91 rout.
Old-timer Celtic fans can’t forget when the defending world-champion Celtics smoked the Lakers, 148-114, at the Garden in the first game of the 1985 Finals. We laughed at the LA Fakers, Tragic Johnson, and ancient Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who looked like Willie Mays-circa 1973 when the Lakers stumbled in Game 1. Less than two weeks later, the Lakers poured champagne over each other’s heads at the Old Garden after beating the Celtics in six.
This is a good reality check for those who are reading too much into the Celtics’ wire-to-wire win over the estimable Raptors Sunday. It was simply too easy.
Beating Toronto for the fourth time in five tries this season, the Celtics stormed to a 31-13 lead in the first quarter and went into intermission ahead, 59-42. Boston played great defense and Toronto never got untracked. Raptor All-Star Pascal Siakam got in early foul trouble and made only 5 of 16 shots. It was a holiday festival for Brian Scalabrine.
When Jayson Tatum was reminded about the flop of 2019 after the Game 1 win in Milwaukee, he said, “We just won a game. You have to bring last year up? This is a different environment, a different team. Last year is behind us and this is different all around. We know it’s not going to be easy.’'
In Belichickian fashion, Brad Stevens dumped a bucket of water on Zoom-heads who intimated that the Celtics seem to have the Raptors’ number.
“We won one game,’' said Stevens. “Our guys could not respect Toronto more. It’s hard to win a game. We’ll just try to do it again Tuesday.’'
On the flip side we have the Bruins, who will be skating for their playoff lives Monday night. The Bruins have been dominated since the beginning of overtime in Game 2. It appears that the abrupt departure of franchise goalie Tuukka Rask during Round 1 is ultimately going to bounce the Presidents Trophy-winning Bruins from the playoffs. Backup Jaroslav Halak appears to have reached his expiration date.
No Bruins team has recovered from a 3-1 playoff series deficit. Twice, the Bruins have blown a 3-1 lead, including in 2010 when they coughed up a 3-0 series lead in the conference semifinals against the Flyers. Mssrs. Rask, Chara, Bergeron, and Krejci remember that one all too well.
Brad Marchand, Chara, Bergeron, and Krejci are the Core Four of the 2020 Bruins. They were all on the ice in Vancouver when the Bruins won the Cup in 2011 and they went back to the Finals again in 2013 and 2019. They know this might be the last roundup. Do not expect them to roll over in Game 5.
By any measure, this is one weird playoff season. Basketball and hockey postseason games are being played in August and September instead of May and June. And much is lost because there are no fans.
Too bad for the Bruins. They could use a Boston Strong crowd in Game 5.