MINNEAPOLIS (CBS) — Funny is a hard thing to judge.
It’s obviously subjective. Plus you have the other meaning of the word, which isn’t really accurate. You know, the people that say “it’s funny” when it’s not funny at all, but rather odd. Doc Rivers was a big fan of that partiucalr use of the word. And given the fact you can now use “literally” to mean whatever you want it to mean, even if the last thing it is is literal, I guess we shouldn’t overthink it.
DeflateGate isn’t really funny. Bill Belichick dropping My Cousin Vinny references, shedding just the slightest little light on the real human heart that beats deep underneath the hoodie, that was funny.
So when I say a funny thing is happening for the Celtics here out West, I really kind of mean the second one. But you know what? A funny thing is happening out here the last week.
The Celtics are winning.
For the last two years, Celtics games out West have been as suspenseful as Marshawn Lynch news conferences, and about as entertaining.
23 months and 24 straight losses out West for the Celtics until Evan Turner beat the buzzer and the Blazers on Thursday. A rocky two-and-a-half hour flight and a time zone change got the Celtics to Denver around 3:30 Friday morning. Hours later, it was an Avery Bradley three leading to a one-point win. How impressive was it?
The last 20 teams that flew from the West Coast to the altitude of Denver for a back-to-back? 19 of them lost. 19 of the 20.
You could make a case the Celtics’ best game of the road trip was Sunday night in Oakland, where the NBA-best Warriors had won 11 straight at home, all by 14 or more points. The Celtics ended that streak in a 3-point loss (without Marcus Smart or Kelly Olynyk), then did another time-zone challenged, late night flight for the back-to-back in Utah. And on the same floor that they’d last won a Western Conerence game with Paul Pierce’s Celtics beating Al Jefferson’s Jazz in OT two years ago, they rode Tayshaun Prince to their third Western road win in five nights.
You could call the Celtics lucky, with the one-point wins, but regression to the mean might be a better description. The Celtics entered Thursday 18th in the NBA in scoring differential, but with the 25th-best record. That means a lot of close games had gone the other way. In fact, before Portland, the Celtics had lost 16 of their last 20 one-point games. So they were due.
But three wins, three road wins, road wins in Western cities stand on their own. And now, so do the Celtics in the playoff race. Why?
Because very quietly, something else is happening. The other contenders for the eighth spot … Charlotte, Detroit, Brooklyn? I don’t want to say they’re headed for disaster, but Jim Cantore is already on Travelocity looking for flights there.
A quick check in on the contenders for the eighth spot. (Come on, you have time for this, we’re more than 96 hours from kickoff. How many more X’s and O’s do we need to see?) Very quick. One sentence each.
Charlotte just lost their best player, Kemba Walker, for at least six weeks.
Detroit just lost their point guard, Brandon Jennings, for the year.
And Brooklyn, well, Mikail Prokorov just lost about $5 billion in the Russian commodities market and as a result his desire, it seems, to own an NBA team. Deron Williams and Brook Lopes, it seems, want out. Joe Johnson’s name is on Hoopshype every day. They’re selling. (Two more first-rounders coming from them by the way — 2016 and 2018 and the option to swap in 2017. The gift that keeps on giving.)
So there’s your competition.
Now, I get the other issue. To pull this off, to make the playoffs.
So let me state my position. I’ll take a five- or six-game series against Atlanta or Chicago in April plus the 16th pick in the draft, over no playoffs, the 14th pick in the draft and the one-point-whatever percent chance that the Celtics would move way up in the lottery. And I know, that means more Tayshaun Prince and Brandon Bass, and less James Young on the floor. I get it. And I’m all for James Young playing 30 minutes a night right now … in Maine.
But that’s another blog for another time.
A win tonight in Minneapolis, and likely losses for the Nets in Atlanta and the Hornets in San Antonio, and the Celtics who arrived in Portland last Thurday three and a half games out of the playoffs, will land on the ground in Boston this Thursday morning with two feet of now, but just a single game out.
And chew on this tidbit: The team with the easiest remaining schedule in the entirety of the NBA?
Yep, that would be the Celtics.
Someone has to finish in the eighth spot.
Why not the Celtics?
Or if you prefer in today’s parlance…
Sean Grande has been calling Boston Celtics games since 2001. Hear his call of the games alongside Cedric Maxwell on 98.5 The Sports Hub starting 30 minutes prior to tipoff! Click here for a list of affiliates on the Celtics Radio Network.