The good news is that there will be playoff games at TD Garden this spring. The bad news is that they involve the wrong team.
The overachieving Celtics, left for dead and the NBA Draft lottery in February, are preparing to be playoff roadkill for LeBron James and the Cavaliers in a series that starts Sunday in Cleveland. Meanwhile, the Bruins, who confidently made playoff plans back in October, are preparing to hit the golf course.
It’s a stunning reversal of fortune with the Bruins the ones participating in a draft lottery and the Celtics the ones playing postseason games. The Bruins had the most points of any non-playoff team (96), so they have the worst odds of winning the NHL Draft lottery on Saturday and obtaining the first overall pick — just 1 percent.
I still like those odds better than the odds of the Celtics beating the Cavaliers. Las Vegas has installed the Cavaliers as the favorites to win the NBA Finals.
The team that was built to win lost, while the team that was built to lose won. Such is the state of our winter sports teams. It’s a lose-lose scenario that puts both teams further away from a championship.
The Celtics, who are in rebuilding mode, would have benefited more from another lottery pick, another asset to bring a franchise player to Boston who can hoist championship banner No. 18. Instead, brilliant coach Brad Stevens has coaxed his commendable, max-effort, gestalt-laden group into the seventh seed in the race-to-the-bottom Eastern Conference.
This is short-term gratification for the Green at the expense of long-term gain. The Celtics hang banners for one thing, and it’s not playoff appearances.
Sorry, Celtics fans, this is a dead end. This is the time of year when the Celtics lose their biggest advantage — playing hard every night. Everyone plays hard now. Cruise control has been disabled around the NBA. The Green went 13-26 against teams above .500 this season.
It’s much easier to go from 25 wins to 40 and sneaking into the playoffs than it is to go from here to a bona fide playoff contender. That’s why you can see the ambivalence radiating from Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. He knows the Celtics have paradoxically set back their rebuild.
The Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy last year, which goes to the NHL team with the best regular-season record. This season they were like a car stuck in a snow bank, spinning their wheels and never gaining any traction.
But even with their lack of scoring and injuries to key pieces such as Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, and Dougie Hamilton, no one really expected them to be on the outside of the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07.
But zero wins and 1 point in their last three games sounded their requiem.
“We were really close, but when you can’t find that consistency over the course of 82 games you have failed as a team,” said goalie Tuukka Rask. “That’s what we did. That’s why we’re not in the playoffs.”
The last time the word failure was used this much around a Boston sports team was the 2011 Red Sox. Although the talk was of a collective failure, general manager Peter Chiarelli paid the price with his job on Wednesday and coach Claude Julien could be next.
The Bruins have become a solve-for-X organization. They have to find a new general manager, decide the fate of their coach, find a first-line right winger, figure out how to straighten out their salary cap, and pray that 38-year-old shutdown defenseman Chara still has a few more miles left on his odometer of greatness.
One season has shattered the stability of the Spoked-Bs, one of the NHL’s most steadfast franchises, and left them with an uncertain future.
This all looked impossible on Feb. 1, when the Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.
The Celtics weren’t even trying to make the playoffs. Ainge already had dealt off his two best players, Rajon Rondo (remember him?) and Jeff Green. (The Celtics were just 8-14 with Top Five Point Guard Rondo in the lineup.)
After losing at home to the Miami Heat on Super Bowl Sunday, the Celtics were 16-30.
The Bruins were 27-16-7. They had just defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, 3-1, at TD Garden the day before. They were in the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics went 24-12 the rest of the way. The Bruins 14-11-7. Their 96 points ended up as the most ever by an NHL team that missed the playoffs.
Ainge picked up point guard Isaiah Thomas in a deal with Phoenix on Feb. 19, the day before the Celtics resumed play after the All-Star break. The entertaining Thomas and Jae Crowder, who came over in the Rondo deal, have been two of the catalysts in the Celtics’ run to the postseason.
After the All-Star break, the Celtics went 20-11, posting the seventh-best record in the NBA.
They were so locked in on winning that they refused to drop a game, even if it meant avoiding Team LeBron in the first round.
If semi-intentionally losing a game for a more favorable playoff matchup was good enough for Patriots coach Bill Belichick in the 2005 season finale, when Matt Cassel suspiciously airmailed a 2-point conversion, it’s good enough for Stevens.
It all culminated in an unlikely juxtaposition on Wednesday.
The Bruins explaining why they had decided to fire Chiarelli, who built a Stanley Cup winner in 2011 and another club that played for hockey’s Holy Grail in 2013.
The Celtics winning a meaningless game against the Milwaukee Bucks to boost their record to 40-42 and head into the playoffs on a six-game winning streak.
The two teams of TD Garden took diverging and surprising paths this season. They both ended up going the wrong direction.