BOSTON (CBS) — Perspective. Context. Rationale.
Those are not popular terms in this hot-takey society that’s seen established, well-respected journalists lose their jobs by the dozens in recent months, but they shouldn’t be ignored.
Since the Celtics’ postseason began, you may have heard debates regarding whether Boston’s a true No. 1 seed. That’s fine; they’re not when you consider the C’s 53 wins were the fewest for a regular season East champ in a decade and the perennial-favorite Cavaliers are still projected to reach the NBA finals. Some talking heads will tell you the season is a failure without a trip to at least the conference finals, but context suggests otherwise. In fact, consider the Celts don’t have a legitimate superstar and they just escaped the first-round for the first time in three seasons under Brad Stevens, and simple rationale may already deem this season a success.
Oh, wait… there’s that ‘Yeah, but…” crowd.
You know them; the idiots who were calling for Stevens to be fired if the C’s fell to the Bulls in round one and screamed about his 2-10 playoff record before the coach’s club reeled off four straight wins to advance.
It’s almost like people forget that Stevens’ first playoff series in 2015 – a sweep at the hands of the heavily favored Cavs – shouldn’t even count. Sure, we’re all about numbers in sports and they are what they are, but Boston literally had a zero percent chance of winning a game let alone the series against that Cleveland team without an injury to LeBron James forcing The King from the postseason.
The “Yeah, but…” crowd was in full force again when the Celts eliminated the Bulls, bellowing, “They may have been swept if Rajon Rondo didn’t get hurt!”
While I doubt that and still believe the C’s could have won the series even with a healthy, revitalized Rondo on the other side (and I’ll happily admit a series loss to the Bulls would’ve been a colossal disappointment and abject failure to an otherwise entertaining year), the problem here is these people are cherry-picking information to fit their gripes.
Let’s go back to the “Stevens is 2-10!” crowd. That’s all you heard. Nothing about how the Celtics shouldn’t have beaten the Cavs – at all – and nothing about Boston’s injuries last year in a six-game series loss to Atlanta.
Avery Bradley appeared in one game against the Hawks due to a hamstring injury. During the regular season, he was the team’s second-leading-scorer, best shooter among players averaging at least 29 minutes a game, best 3-point shooter among those with at least four attempts per game and, oh yeah, the top-voted defensive guard in the entire NBA.
Jae Crowder’s late-season ankle injury took the jump out of his jump shot. He made 28 percent of his attempts, 24 percent of his 3’s, and 64 percent of his free throws to average 9.5 points. This was after averaging 14.2 points on 44/34/82 percent shooting during the regular season.
Kelly Olynyk was limited to 32 minutes and two points all series as a result of a shoulder injury that required surgery. Not because he was awkward and ineffective. He averaged 10 points during the regular season and made a team-best 41 percent of his tries from beyond the arc.
As a result, Evan Turner was shifted from his role of sparkplug off the bench to starter in four games. Rookie Terry Rozier was thrust into minutes he wasn’t quite ready for, averaging 19.7 a game (up from 8 per during the regular campaign) in his five contests.
The series was a mess and the Celts were crippled, though the “Yeah, but…” followers don’t care. They don’t care the C’s and Hawks finished with the exact same 48-34 record last year, yet Boston didn’t hold home-court advantage and Atlanta was healthy.
Nope. You’ll just hear it was a loss to a squad that the Celtics should’ve beaten.
But don’t then point to Rondo’s injury when Stevens makes adjustments (Gerald Green, a starter?), the Celts game-plan better, Bradley and Al Horford play at the tops of their games, Isaiah Thomas returns to form in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy, the bench shows up, and the C’s play like a No. 1 seed.
You don’t get to do that. “The Celts won because Rondo got hurt” only works if Boston lost last year because Bradley, Crowder, and Olynyk were injured. Anything else is inconsistent.
At least that’s the way it should be.
But it’s not, and that became clear again on Sunday when the Celtics rallied from a 16-0 hole for a 123-111 win over the Wizards to start the conference semis.
How’d they do it? Some will tell you Thomas sleeplessly scored 33 points, Horford finished a board shy of a triple-double, Bradley continued his two-way play, Crowder caught fire offensively after a goose egg in the first, the bench maintained its resurgence, and the team matched a franchise-record with 19 treys.
The “Yeah, but…” folks simply muttered, “Markieff Morris sprained his ankle, Washington’s bench sucks, and the series is over if he’s out any length of time. More like Kelly EW-bre!”
Again, probably all true, but how ‘bout a little credit to the C’s for how they mounted their comeback? Is it simply a foregone conclusion that wouldn’t have happened with a healthy Morris on the floor?
Injuries happen. Teams get breaks. It’s that way in every sport’s postseason each year and those facts should be acknowledged in failure as well as success. Shutting up and enjoying the ride ain’t part of the gig, so is a little perspective, context, and rationale too much to ask?