I think Shakespeare got drunk after he finished King Lear. That he had a ball writing it.
The hospital Celtics have a 2-0 lead against the Cleveland Cavs and the man who has been their bête noire for the better part of a decade.
LeBron has scored over a thousand points against the Celtics in the playoffs, and he has ended more Celtics playoff series than any other basketball player. That’s right. None of the old rivalries—not during the battles waged in the 80s, certainly not during the triumphs of the 60s—never has another player ended so many Celtics post seasons.
And where are we now? LeBron has finagled and weaseled and connived his way into more front office nooks and crannies in a desperate attempt to, I don’t know, somehow be something more than what he already is on the court, LeBron who made sure that nobody with sense would be the GM, that nobody with brains would be the coach, and who pouted and sulked until Occasional Rebounder Tristan Thompson and Sentient Toenail Fungus JR Smith got stupid contracts, who insisted that the Cavs trade for Kevin Love, and then turned him into something that is a tailor’s mannequin most of the time and only, on occasion, what he once was in Minnesota, this LeBron then grumbled and groused and complained about the roster and coaxed Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose to join the team, or what may have in fact been stunt doubles for the same, given their performance for the whine and gold.
LeBron who sonned Irving right out the door.
This LeBron stumbled and roared through the season, with carefully placed articles about how impressive it was that he was playing 40+ minutes a game, and how it was not at all a problem for someone of his age to be doing such feats.
The Pacers took it to the Cavs and gave them everything they could handle.
OMG. The Raptors. What can be said about them that hasn’t already been said? Are there words for what happened to the Raptors? It seems that the only possible way to do justice to what the Raptors did in the face of the almighty terror that is Larry Nance, Jr., and Rodney Hood, is to, as Springsteen said, ‘stand back and let it all be.’
Not even one win.
That was your number one seed. That was your Raptors fans squawking the last several months of the season about how the NBA had some sort of conspiracy against them or something, that they were not—in fact—that which they have been for years, regular season tigers that turned into post-season mice.
And what of the Sixers?
The Sixers, the Sixers, the Sixers, who finally topped .500 in the same game where they beat the Celtics—after three unsuccessful attempts.
But then they beat some terrible teams and somehow all of the sudden they were going to Go To The Finals. And Their Future Was Now. They strung together a mighty winning streak that made everyone forget that they hit the middle of January south of the Mendoza Line.
And they breezed through a Miami Heat team, that like the Cleveland Cavs, is a despairing and desolate waste of scraps leftover from the presence of LeBron. A hollow husk of a franchise, gutted more or less, to feed LeBron while LeBron was there to be fed, and then LeBron left.
Then the Sixers came to Boston, and lost and lost and lost again in Philly and told themselves that they should’ve won most of those games, but somehow didn’t which, Boston is apparently the Typhoid Mary of that sentiment, because everybody they beat seems to think that they should’ve won.
And that’s how it was, the Sixers just thought they should’ve won those games and they had no idea how they lost them.
Then the Sixers won the fourth game, which was great because the fifth game was played in Boston and the Sixers did not win that game at all. Not after Terry li’l bustered Embiid to end the game.
I hope the Sixers and LeBron team up.
I hope the Sixers and LeBron team up because, no apologies to Jemele Hill, I’m not a basketball fan. I’m a Celtics fan. And watching LeBron trying to play alongside Ben Simmons would make my day—watching Embiid get so excited about teaming up with LeBron only to realize that his job, as everyone’s job ever will be with Norma-Desmond-James, is to be a sort of living waxwork, a court jester to the king, the royal chamberlain, to stand in one spot and wait for the King to gleam beneficiently in his direction and offer him the royal scepter, or, I should say, the ball, and a chance to score.
One does not play with LeBron, one merely orbits around him. One enters the court of the king and one stands ready to answer any question HRH may choose to ask, and even if HRH should not have any need of your presence, you will nonetheless be expected to be in attendance upon him.
Do you dare to think otherwise? You will not remain on his team. You will either be traded or you will have to demand a trade yourself.
And so, now, to these Celtics. These Celtics are not just these Celtics, they are all of the Celtics since The Trade.
Gigi Datome is still somewhere in the locker room, I’m sure of it. Isaiah Thomas must’ve been pointing at his wrist last night, we just didn’t see him this time. Evan Turner was somewhere saying something absurd in funereal tones and jacking up a contested midrange shot. Someone delivered a cup of hot chocolate to the Celtics’ bench and we missed Gerald Green coming over to pick it up. And the other Gerald. Wallace this time. He was there for at least one sideline out of bounds, I’m sure of it. I’ve just got to go back and rewatch the tape. Why even David Lee was there. Not on the court, though. I saw him out of the corner of my eye up on the third level concourse eating two pretzels at once.
Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder and all the guys that the Celtics were so stupid for trading for or so stupid for paying, they all played their parts last night. Amir Johnson showed up for shootarounds about 5:00 and decided to take a three. It left his hands sometime around 6:30. And Tyler Zeller. There was Zeller sitting on the bench joking with Stevens about how he should’ve gone to Butler. You remember Zeller, don’t you? That’s the guy that the Celtics picked up from Cleveland so that Cleveland could sign LeBron. The C’s also got a draft pick from that deal and a guy that they turned into Isaiah Thomas—and now we’re back to IT.
He’s the gasoline on the tire fire. He’s the ‘accelerant’ that the fire marshal is going to find traces of after you decide to burn down that warehouse for the insurance money.
Whatever the Celtics were muddling around and trying to be, they figured out once they got IT.
“Pick me last again”, yeah, that’s been the Celtics motto ever since. Maybe it’ll have to change next year, who knows? But that’s the official motto of a team that the Wizards and the Bulls and the Bucks and the Sixers all thought they should’ve beat.
That’s right, four teams got bounced by the Celtics and every one of them left the floor thinking that they were the better team, the conclusive evidence of hundreds of minutes of basketball competition notwithstanding.
Last season’s little guy punching up a weight class, the ‘worst number one seed ever’, that team’s run in the playoffs—the only time that really matters in a season that has 82 games in it because winters are long and arenas need to be filled, and certainly not because all of the games are necessary—not when over half the teams in the league make it into the playoffs—last season’s playoff run sucked.
It didn’t suck because the Celtics beat the Bulls and the Wizards. It sucked because Isaiah Thomas’s sister died and then his face got busted and then we found out he’d been playing for three months on a messed up hip, and how could we enjoy anything after that? The highlight of the whole playoff run was the ‘take that’ victory on the road in Cleveland. The counterpunch landed so that the Cavs would have to be content with a “gentleman’s sweep”
Then, just like the year before, a guy on the team that knocked the Celtics out of the playoffs looked at the Celtics and thought, ‘hey, maybe there’s a future here.’
Al Horford chose to come to Boston and Irving made it impossible to be traded anywhere else.
So the season started and we had absolutely no idea what we had. None of us. Because almost as soon as the Celtics lost Hayward, they started to do things we didn’t think they were going to be able to do with Hayward.
And that’s the thing.
You can knock this team down, but you can’t knock the smile off this team’s face.
Half the team was wiped out by smallpox, four other guys starved to death crossing the mountains, and, no wait, this wasn’t an ill-fated wagon train headed to California.
Everybody got hurt. Everybody. Everybody except, I think Yabusele and Semi, and they didn’t get hurt because they’re indestructible.
Marcus Smart punched a wall for the second year in a row, and this time he cut himself up good. Daniel Theis’s knee exploded during a game and Kyrie Irving’s knee actually fell off of his leg during a morning practice session. People got the flu, people got the flu and got checked into the hospital. Something happened to Shane Larkin, and we’re still not sure what it was and at this point in time, it’s like one of those forms where you have to ask the secretary for another sheet of paper because you’ve run out of room.
And the whole dang thing was hilarious.
It was hilarious because, except for a particularly grotesque stretch in January and February, it didn’t matter at all.
I mean, Gordon Hayward’s dog went down with a knee injury.
And all the Celtics did was keep playing basketball and mostly winning, and saying stuff about ‘next man up’ and all that, and that sheer delight in the experience of basketball, of basketball played as it should be played, more or less, carried them through (excepting, as mentioned, the rather rocky patch, mid-season when Marcus went all Keith-Moon-at-a-Holiday-Inn).
What’s the picture of the Celtics this season? It’s guys smiling. It’s guys out there having a ball, even though there’s an army triage unit in the training room performing emergency amputations for a standing-room-only-crowd of injured guys in green and white.
And the master of all this chaos? It’s a guy who organizes his dress socks by color and pattern, and puts them on those cute little hangers—and with his bump in salary, probably cute little wooden hangers.
This high school math teacher, this guy who’s not upset, he’s just disappointed…
There he is on the sidelines, looking like one of the following:
- A guy who is waiting for a bus
- A guy who sees his bus coming
- A guy who just missed his bus—but knows another one is coming in five minutes.
And all around him, chaos. “Brad, Marcus Morris’s hand got caught in a wood chipper.” “Tell him to see the trainer.” “Brad, Jayson Tatum got sucked into a transdimensional portal and got thrown into last Tuesday.” “Call a physicist.” “Brad, Terry just made another one of those disgusting sandwiches and I can hear him eating it.” “Find somewhere else to sit.”
Dad Brad, the eye at the center of a hurricane of Tommy Heinsohn adopting a bunch of internet flakes that put Marcus Smart’s head on a painting that Goya, in one of his darker moods, painted on the dining room wall of the Quinta del Sordo. Jaylen Brown flying through space, Guy Fieri floating on a cloud like some frost-tipped and over-indulged genie, Kyrie Irving attempting to reach an Astral Plane, and so forth.
The joyous insanity that we should’ve seen coming when Gigi Datome went from salary match filler in a last minute trade to minor celebrity, this insanity of thick jacked frames, combat muscles, the Ojeleye Factory, Jaylen Brown going to Harvard, all started some time ago, and yes, Jimmy Buffett once said, ‘If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane,” but the Celtics, by the end of this utterly improbable run, at the peak of ‘how the heck did they do that?’ The Celtics well, they weren’t buying the Buffett’s duality.
The Celtics have spent this season laughing and going insane.
You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps.
And what awaits the hospital Celtics—or the asylum Celtics—is a task of such insuperable ridiculousness that the only possible way of approaching it is by tossing reality right out the window, putting on a big grin and then saying, ‘it’s showtime,’ like that one guy did in that one movie.
Yep, the Celtics have reached the military crest of the hill. It’s all gravy from here.
They took a triple double from the guy that owned their franchise in the most absolute yet most metaphorical terms over the past seven years, they took 21 points from him in a quarter.
And they won.
And they won handily.
Regardless of what happens next, the pinnacle the Celtics have to defend came last night. It came when the guard changed in the East again, and sooner, perhaps, than anyone expected.
As Douglas Adams once speculated, the Celtics needed to figure out how to fire missiles at right angles to reality, and they have.
There’s been a quantum superposition of narratives applied to the Celtics this season. The Celtics have been doomed by the loss of Irving and Hayward, they’ve discovered that they need neither Irving nor Hayward, Mook has been a villain a hero a villain a hero a villain a hero and then a villain and a hero again. Brad Stevens has been a genius and he’s been overrated, the Celtics have been undermanned and full of talented young players, at some point or another this season someone has said, in all seriousness and probably to a camera or a microphone, everything that could possibly be said, and all of it about the Celtics.
And every one of those things has been simultaneously right and wrong.
Now this blurred reality, this uncollapsed waveform of a team has one more impossible task to perform, but in some adjacent reality a couple months ahead, they’ve already done it, and all we have to do is sit around and see how exactly they do it, not that we’ll be able to understand any of it while it’s happening.
And in case this season ends tragically, like King Lear, we’ll know for sure that the Celtics had a ball writing it.
Guys, this post was made possible by:
Pretty much everybody I follow, and who I’ve
unfortunately fortunately forgot to single out.
Oh, and of course the guy that got me stuck on the Celtics to begin with.