Game 24 of 82 (29.2%), Friday, December 17, 730pm EST
Wolves @ Celtics
What makes a person attach to a team? A desire to connect one’s identity to one’s place? A yearning to be part of a collective? A group to cheer with, outside of religion? Joining the energy of mutual excitement? A chance to lose oneself in the ups and downs of a team’s victories and losses? To see life’s ebbs and flows play out in real-time? An opportunity to feel something beyond our own control? Maybe all of the above.
Jared and I have known each other since junior high school. We watched countless Celtics games between 1994 and 2003, many with our mutual friend Eric. The Celtics didn’t win more than 36 games in a season between ’94 and ’01. In 2001-02, they surprised us with 49 wins and playoff success. As the older generation of Celtics fans divided into die-hards and former-fans of a formerly great franchise, we were overdosing on mediocrity.
On January 31, 2003, only seven months removed from the Celtics unexpected run to the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals (which included a playoff upset of the Detroit Pistons), Jared and I saw the Celtics suffer their worst loss in franchise history.
The final score that night: Pistons 118, Celtics 66. It was the second-largest road win in NBA history. After the game, Celtics star Antoine Walker, who returned to the court to shoot 1-of-15 after missing four games with a knee sprain, gave this quote: “It’s a basketball game. It doesn’t matter if you lose by one or by 50. It’s still a loss.” Technically, Antoine is correct. Each game counts only once. However, this game was a kind of test. The few fans who stayed at TD Garden for all 48 minutes were treated to Celtics fans cheering for Pistons baskets in the game’s final quarter. Celtics reserve Kedrick Brown will always stick in our minds for diving to the floor in pursuit of a loose ball in the final minutes. There are fans who can’t stomach losing. There are fans who will only cheer for a winning team. Who won’t spend money to go see a mediocre team. That’s why season tickets were available the summer the Celtics became relevant again. That’s why I had the chance to see my Celtics in the NBA Finals in 2008 and 2010. Seven years after that horrific January loss to Detroit, seven years after I moved to the Bay Area, Jared and I saw the Celtics play the Lakers in Game 3 of the 2010 Finals.
In this way, the games echo our lives. Full of lows and highs, of ebbs and flows. The Rondo trade signals the ultimate end of an era that was over when Pierce and Garnett were traded to Brooklyn in July, 2013. Now patience takes on a new meaning for Celtics fans. The possibility of a Rondo-led future in Boston is over.
The post-Rondo era of Boston basketball began on Friday night. The Celtics faced a franchise that is as bewildered as themselves. The Minnesota Timberwolves are beginning a new chapter in their identity this year. Kevin Love, their cornerstone power forward, is now a Cavalier. The rumor-era is over for Minnesota, but the bad luck continues with injuries to three of their best players this year: Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, and Nikola Pekovic. The Wolves came into the game having lost 10 of their last 11.
The Celtics shared the ball beautifully. Seven Celtics finished with three or more assists, never mind the barely existent Minnesota perimeter defense. Andrew Wiggins will be an excellent defender soon, but he can’t make up for the other four positions. At halftime, Jared and I met up with Steve, who I’ve known since I was about eight years old. Steve is old enough to have appreciated the 1980’s Celtics. Steve has been organizing the season ticket group since 2008. We have a ticket draft every year before the season starts and (in previous years) before the playoffs start. We can count on Steve to keep things organized and he won’t be jumping off the Celtics wagon any time soon. A loyal fan. It was great to see Steve.
As the third quarter started, the Celtics kept moving the ball, and started digging in defensively. By the end of the third, the Celtics had a six-point lead. They pushed the lead to 10, then 12. Jared and I had a good time. Jared is a father now. Hopefully, I will be within the next couple of years. The Celtics will be good again. Patience is a trait all good parents have. All true fans as well.