Only the 2020-21 Celtics could take a nice idea like “Tommy Heinsohn Day” and turn it into “Rick Pitino Day” or “Sidney Wicks Day” with a disgraceful effort on national television in the most important game of the season.
In a game with vital playoff seeding at stake, Boston’s entitled AAU Warriors came out sleepwalking and allowed the hungry Miami Heat to score 79 first-half points Sunday afternoon. The Boston Celtics have been around since 1946 and had never allowed that many points in the first half at home. Boston lost, 130-124.
With 68 regular-season games in the books and four left (including Tuesday night at home again with Miami), these Celtics have emerged as one of the truly unlikable teams in Boston sports lore. And now it turns out that Jaylen Brown, probably their best player, needs season-ending wrist surgery. Yeesh.
Remember the 2001 Red Sox of Shea Hillenbrand, Mike Lansing, Carl Everett, and Jose Offerman? Dan Duquette was general manager, and nutty Joe Kerrigan managed ‘em to a 17-26 finish in a season we thought would never end.
How about the 2009 Patriots? The Adalius Thomas All-Stars. They staggered to a respectable 10-6 season, then got smoked by Baltimore (33-14) in the first round of the playoffs. Bill Belichick said they had “no mental toughness” and admitted, “I just can’t get this team to play the way we need to play.”
The Josh Beckett/John Lackey/Adrian Gonzalez Chicken-and-Beer Red Sox of 2011 were perhaps the most talented Boston team to fail to make the postseason. Their 7-20 September got Terry Francona fired, sent Theo Epstein packing, and inspired ownership to hire Bobby Valentine.
The Celtics have had some regrettable campaigns, including the Wicks/Curtis Rowe-fueled fall to 29-53 in 1978-79. M.L. Carr’s “championship-driven” Celtics of 1996-97 went 15-67 in a failed effort to score Tim Duncan in the draft, and of course the Pitino era featured the lowlight of Little Ricky replacing Red Auerbach as “team president.”
What we have now is something altogether different. The 2020-21 Celtics are a team with considerable talent. They are over .500 and bound for the playoffs. But they are infuriating underachievers who don’t seem to care what anybody thinks of them. Celtic fans love them unconditionally, but the Celtics do not love the fans back. The Celtics carry themselves as if they’ve already accomplished something when they have not. Now we officially know they are going nowhere.
The team has stars, but no leadership. Players push back when they get criticized and say they don’t listen to their critics. Former Celtic champion Kendrick Perkins says maybe these players should start listening to the critics. Because the criticism is legit.
We all know the M.O. of this team. They are talented, but not “engaged.” When their shots don’t fall at the start of games, they lose motivation to play defense. They fall too far behind. Then their shots start falling, they “get engaged,” and they play lockdown defense. They come back, but usually it falls short. And still they expect credit for not quitting.
Accountability is in short supply on Causeway Street. Ownership loves Danny Ainge. Danny Ainge loves Brad Stevens. Wyc Grosbeck appears to be owner-for-life and wants Danny to be GM-for-life. They both want Stevens to be coach-for-life.
Would the Celtics fire Stevens? Would Stevens ever quit? Both scenarios seem doubtful. Stevens has to hate coaching these guys, but will never tell us that. Anyone who watches the games has to conclude that Celtics players don’t have sufficient respect for Stevens. They can’t possibly be doing what he is telling them to do.
Jayson Tatum has his 60-point game and his sandwich commercial, but plays hero ball and does little to make anyone else better when he’s on the floor. Referee-obsessed Marcus Smart still behaves like a nitwit and gets nothing but love from his coach and GM. Kemba Walker came here too late in his career to have the impact he would have once had. The Time Lord can’t see to stay out of the trainer’s room.
Brown could have been this team’s Bergeron or Bogaerts, but from our social distance, it’s always been hard to tell whether he wants to lead this dysfunctional bunch. None of that matters now that he has been subtracted from the mix.
The NBA is a player’s league. The Celtics have several good players. But there is something seriously wrong. It’s hard to like them even when they come back from a big deficit because we know they should have won more easily. The deficits are the residue of their own laziness. They are professional athletes who too often this year have submitted unprofessional effort.
They are the feel-bad story of New England’s 2021 sports spring. The NBA playoffs are right around the bend, but I just want to see the Celtics season end so we can get some sort of shakeup and hit the reset button for next season.