Q&A With Old Friends and Celtics Aficionados Jared Schaeffer and Eric Black

Jared Schaeffer and Eric Black have been longtime friends of mine.  They are also lifelong Celtics fans.  We were all too young to fully appreciate the glorious Celtics teams of the 1980’s. We were six years old when Larry, Kevin, Chief, DJ, Danny and Walton led the Celtics to a Finals victory over the Showtime Lakers. Second overall pick Len Bias died one month after the draft. We were seven years old when the Lakers got their revenge on the Celtics. We were finishing sixth grade with our fingers crossed when the Celtics went deep into the playoffs in 1992, watching Bird lie stomach-down on the sideline, keeping his back loose.

The three of us met in junior high. Bird’s back and McHale’s feet were a constant concern.  We were thrilled with the emergence of Reggie Lewis.  At the end of seventh grade, Lewis collapsed in that awful playoff game against the Hornets.  In July, two months before eighth grade, the death of Reggie Lewis cast a shadow over the summer sun. The pain of losing Reggie coalesced into the frustration of several mediocre seasons. It was around this time that I got to know Jared and Eric better.

Together, we’ve seen the highs and lows of the men in green.  During high school, we suffered through the mid-90’s teams, watching countless Celtics games in which Dino Radja and David Wesley led the team in scoring.  We absorbed the Tank-errific 1996-97 season as juniors in high school. Endless video games of NBA Live and NHL Hockey on an original Sony Playstation, while Pearl Jam played in the background.  We all needed solace after the disaster that was the draft lottery of 1997, which resulted in the 3rd and 5th picks (Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer). These video game playoff tournaments usually ended in the same way: I lost and then gave the running commentary while witnessing the epic clashes of Jared and Eric.  The devotion to mostly mediocre and occasionally awful versions of the Celtics during our teenage years gave way to the wonderfully improbable 2002 Eastern Conference Finals run. By then, Jared, Eric and I watched these games together in a communal-style house in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Eric and I had the good fortune of attending Game 3 of that Eastern Conference Finals against the Jason Kidd-Kenyon Martin-Kerry Kittles-led Nets.  In that memorable game, the Celtics came back from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter.  Paul Pierce tossed in 19 points while the FleetCenter crowd went hysterical, causing the balcony to sway gently and continuously.  The noise compared to the Radiohead concert we would attend later that summer.  The Celtics outscored the Nets 41-16 in a historic comeback.  Eric and I went temporarily bonkers with delirious joy.  Sadly, the Celtics went on to lose the series in six games.  A look at that box score, per basketball-reference.

The following year, Jared and I attended a regular season game in January, 2003, against the Detroit Pistons, in which the Celtics lost 118-66.  This was a historically awful game.  The Celtics, who entered the contest at 26-19 on the season, trailed by 27 at the half, 35 at the end of three quarters, and eventually lost by 52 points.  Jared’s favorite player (and probably mine, too, though I was always in love with Pierce) Antoine Walker, suffered through a 1-for-15 shooting night, and the legendary Bruno Sundov, in his third-to-last game in Celtic green, played 9 minutes. Kedrick Brown was seen diving on the court after a loose ball in the fourth quarter. We had great respect for Kedrick after that. The game was chosen as the 5th-worst loss of the last 30 years in the NBA, in a recent Dime Magazine article.  A look, if you dare, at that box score–check out the Celtics team field-goal percentage and the total assist number– per basketball-reference.

As you might imagine, there are many more memories.  A more comprehensive personal history of the Celtics and our friendship is in order.  That will have to wait for a later time.  For now, a little of the old Q&A on the 2013-14 Boston Celtics, twenty games into the season.

Q. Watching Brad Stevens on the sidelines, how do you think he’s dealing with the adjustment? Any signs of positive emotion?  Negative emotion?  Emotion at all?

Jared: His lack of reaction to that Jeff Green game winner in Miami was pretty crazy. He may be a sophisticated coaching robot sent from the future to guide the Celtics to glory. Honestly, I haven’t seen much positive or negative here. The team plays hard which is great; they also make a lot of silly plays and turn the ball over a ton. I think he’ll end up being a solid coach at least; he doesn’t seem out of place at all.

Eric: Seems like he’s doing pretty well. Every coach kind of presents himself to the outside world in a way that works for his style. The important part is how the team responds. The Celtics play hard. Aside from Gerald Wallace, there’s very little in the way of media melodrama. So I’m impressed. I think he has the right disposition for an NBA coach.

Q. When the Celtics win, does it give you a strange feeling?  In my attempts at both sanity and balance in Life vs. NBA consumption, I haven’t had the fortune to see many of their games this year.  Every time I see a box score and they win, I have trouble feeling happy. Perhaps I’m delusional about the value of the 2014 Draft, but I’m trying to keep the long-term focus.

Jared: I know the draft is supposed to be amazing, but I’m done with tanking (having seen the Celtics go through that twice). They tanked to get Durant or Oden, were probably sad to get the 5th pick, turned it into KG and Ray and won the title that year (and Oden is always injured). I’m generally happy when they win, and on a particularly delusional day I can convince myself that they’d be pretty decent with Rondo.

Eric: It’s a bit of the opposite for me. I feel very strange when they lose. That is to say, I’m not all that disappointed, especially since nearly all of their losses have been pretty close. For 5 years now I’m used to feeling bitter and worrying about the Celtics place in the standings after a loss. As for winning, I guess I can’t help but be happy for them. And I think there are good things about winning with a rebuilding team. If all you do is lose, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out which players on your team are good and which are bad. Just ask the Bobcats.

Complicated rebuilding side noteI know that I’d be watching closely and have a harder time rooting for a top pick over a 40-win season if I still lived in Boston. It would be much harder to believe that the draft will land the Celtics exactly what they need. Really, I think Rondo-Bradley-Green-Sullinger are a solid core.  Still, I’m lusting over the seemingly-NBA-ready 19-year-old prospects. Perhaps the prospect infatuation with baseball has finally bled over into basketball for me, too.  
Rondo side note: To be honest, I want to convince myself that it’s best for them to lose as much as possible until Rondo returns.  For me, that is the starting point of this new era of Celtics basketball. With the silver lining of the loaded June draft, I’ve rationalized that missing all these early season games is acceptable because without Rondo, they aren’t the real Celtics.  

I can’t stand the overly-hyped bullshit B.S. (Simmons) rumors that its inevitable that Rondo is traded.  I also can’t stand the fact that so many claim Rondo can’t change, will always simply be a head-case, or wouldn’t be able to get on the same page with the constantly-praised Brad Stevens.  It’s all so black-and-white to the morons.  And it’s premature to make any comments regarding Stevens-Rondo, but that doesn’t stop hype-driven folks. 

Q. Speaking of Rondo, have you heard anything on the Rondo rehab front?

Jared: I hear he practiced with a brace yesterday. It sounds like he’ll be back within a month, though you never know.

Eric: Nothing you wouldn’t expect. No timetable. Apparently he’s going to see Dr. Andrews in a couple weeks for a “scheduled checkup.” He won’t be back before mid-January at best. Maybe they’ll trot him out for a month or two to play with the team, but there’s obviously no sense in risking anything.

Q. Be honest: have you fast-forwarded through long stretches of certain games?  Have you skipped any games entirely?  Either way, I appreciate your devotion, and yes, you have every right to criticize me for not watching every game this year.

Jared: I’ve been cruising through the games mostly just by fast-forwarding through free throws. I think I’ve seen some of every game this year, but I probably only watched 10 minutes of the Rockets game. That game was a catastrophe from the start.

Eric: I’ve watched some parts of all the games I think.. Though maybe I missed a couple when I was in California. I am pretty liberal with the fast forward. When I’m zooming through commercials I’m definitely not as diligent about skipping some of actual game time.

Celtics-Rockets side note: Houston outscored Boston 18-1 to start the game and 40-18 in the first quarter.  I’ve taken to skipping through the free-throws these days, too. Saves a ton of time, though it does take away from the commentary, if you actually want to hear the announcers.

Q. How is Tommy doing this year?  Taking every loss a little bit more lightly than usual, or going down screaming?

Jared: Tommy is Tommy. I think he compared Olynyk favorably to Dirk by the end of the first half of the first game of the season. He doesn’t do any road games which is pretty sad. I was hoping for Scalabrine to fill that role, but now that he’s coaching we get Carlesimo, Cowens and Cornbread.  All three of them are preferable to Donny Marshall, at least.

Eric: He’s delusional and entertaining as ever. He’s thoroughly impressed with the “spunk” and “fight” of this team. Lots of completely insane player comparisons, though I can’t think of specific ones at the moment.

Q. What are your favorite developments over the first 20 games?  There have to be a few…

Jared: The team plays hard. Sullinger has been impressive. Avery Bradley has been more aggressive with his shot (and shooting a bit better lately). I’m talking myself into a lineup of Rondo, Bradley, Green, Sullinger and Bass being pretty good (though too small). I must begrudgingly admit that Jordan Crawford has been good, at least offensively.

Eric: Jeff Green successfully going left once in a while! Avery Bradley kind of, sort of developing a consistent jump shot. Jared Sullinger has played really well. Courtney Lee rediscovering his shooting ability has been nice; might get some trade value out of him after all. As a team, I really like how hard they play, and their defense has been much better than I would have predicted.

Q. What are your least favorite developments over the first 20 games?  

Jared: I don’t have much to say here. They’ve been better than I expected. Gerald Wallace seems like he turns it over every time he touches it and is shooting under 40% from the line, so that’s pretty sad. I’m not sure he would have been able to play well enough to make his contract tradeable anyhow.  I wasn’t too impressed with Olynyk, but he seemed like he’s an NBA player, at least.

Eric: Jordan Crawford’s antics have been entertaining, but let’s face it, he’s not a starting point guard for a contending team. His decision making is questionable at best and he’s not a great passer. He’s a liability on defense. As a team, the turnovers have been really painful to watch. Gerald Wallace complaining is also something I could do without. Dude’s contract is the biggest liability on the team. Also, it’s weird to say this, but the Celtics being in first place in the Atlantic is kind of freaking me out. How can the East be so bad that if the playoffs started, the Celtics would be the fourth seed? It boggles the mind, and doesn’t help our chances at this sweet draft any. This Celtics team really has no business going to the playoffs.

Sullinger side noteSullinger has noted an increased mobility and lift due to last year’s back surgery and a new healthy feel on the court. Sullinger’s back was first injured early in his college career, which kept him from going early in the 2012 draft.  Sullinger’s PER leads the team at 18.6.  Crawford is second at 18.0.  Chris Forsberg recently noted that Jared Sullinger’s plus-minus on the season is +44. The Celtics are -113 when Sullinger is off the court.  Coach Stevens has Sullinger shooting three-pointers at will (0.8 for 2.5, 31%).  Most impressively, Sullinger has hit 19 of 34 shots from mid-range (56% compared to the league average of 39%).  Hitting these fifteen-to-twenty footers make me think of Rondo and Sullinger on the pick-and-roll.

Turnover side note: The Celtics have the lowest assist-to-turnover ratio in the NBA (1.08).  Playing without Rajon Rondo, this isn’t completely shocking, but it certainly doesn’t bode well for the next month or so.

Weak schedule side note: Though the Celtics were forced to play the busiest NBA schedule in November (19 games), they played mostly very weak opponents.  According to teamrankings.com, only two teams have played softer schedules thus far.

Jared Schaeffer and Eric Black are both great people and excellent basketball fans. As well as being Celtics aficionados, they are highly knowledgeable, even expert, in many aspects of life.
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