BOSTON (CBS) — Charles Barkley had a good line a couple of weeks back. I mean, when does he not have one, really? But he was calling the Knicks-Nets game for TNT.
He said, “I left two tickets at the box office. When I got there, there were six.”
And thus, the keynote for the 2013-14 Atlantic Division season was born.
When the Celtics take the floor at the Garden tonight against the Pistons, it will be their 15th consecutive day in first place. That’s 15 more days, by the way, than last year’s team spent there. You remember the one with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo … and Doc Rivers coaching? That one.
So OK, yes, the East is off to a mildly slow start (you know, 37-84 against the West thus far … but it’s early … right?). Fine, the East and West are the Eli and Peyton of NBA conferences, and the Atlantic Division is the weak sister’s weak sister.
But your Celtics are in first place. It’s true. Google it.
How is it possible? Well, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Tyson Chandler, Bradley Beal and Al Jefferson have been hurt. The high draft picks in the West the last few years, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Kevin Love and Steph Curry have blossomed. Meanwhile Mike Woodson and Jason Kidd have been playing a coaching game of one-downsmanship so spellbinding, they knocked A-Rod off the back page of the Post.
So in case you were one of those people that let your attention wander the last few months to Koji-mania, duck boat parades, why Toronto elected that mayor, why they elected to remake “The Sound Of Music” or the Patriots season spiraling into the Monty Python Black Knight sketch … just in case your mind wandered, here’s what you’ve been missing.
** The Celtics have won eight of 12. They are alone in first place in the Atlantic and have been for two weeks now. They do not have the worst record (12-14) of any first place team at this point of the season in NBA history. (They have the second-worst, but who’s counting). If the playoffs were to begin today, well, it would be very cold. It’s usually a lot warmer with a lot less snow on the ground. But if they did, the Celtics would not only be in them, but they’d have home-court advantage in the first round.
** Last Sunday at Madison Square Garden, the Celtics beat the Knicks. No, wait, they dismantled the Knicks. No wait, hang on … thesaurus is shift + F7 … and, here we go: They eviscerated the Knicks. The 41-point loss was the Knicks’ third-worst in MSG history. Third. That’s 67 years and 2,490 games.
** Jared Sullinger is doing some things. He’s an offensive savant. That we knew. But he’s healthy, he’s becoming very hard to guard on the block, he’s added a three-point shot and yeah, he’s 21. The Celtics have been outscored by 20 points this year, but but by 101 when he’s been off the floor. His plus-81 not only leads the team. The 182-point disparity between him being on and off the floor is one of the biggest in the league. I get it, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers these days, and one wrong mouse click on the NBA’s new SportVu player tracking stats and your day can quickly be lost. But trust me, this is a monster early-season number.
** Brad Stevens adjustments? The Celtics are 7-12 the first time they face a team. They’ve had seven rematches, and won five of them.
** Avery Bradley is looking like the Avery Bradley of 2012, with the volume turned up. He’s now 18 of his last 34 from the three.
** The Celtics are the only team that hasn’t allowed an opponent to score 30. Gordon Hayward and Kemba Waker’s 28 remain the high against Boston.
But those are just numbers. What matters is they’ve been fun. Fun to watch, fun to listen to, fun to follow. They’ve played harder than they’ve played well. But they’re overachieving, they’re surprising people, and they’re playing with pride.
In other words, they’ve been Celtics.
Don’t worry, you’re caught up. Plenty of room on the bandwagon.
Next week, in honor of the Christmas season (and the fact the Celtics have Christmas Day off for the first time in 17 years), we’ll have a look back at the Celtics season’s greatest gift — the one Celtics fans bestowed on Doc Rivers on his return to the Garden.
Sean Grande has been calling Boston Celtics games since 2001. You can follow him on Twitter @SeanGrandePBP, and you can hear the 2013-14 Boston Celtics on 98.5 The Sports Hub — the new radio home of the Celtics!