Whether you’re on the “they’re-better-off-without-Rajon-Rondo” wagon or part of the “talk-to-me-in-a-month” camp, one thing we can all agree on today, right now, in February of 2013, is that the Kevin Garnett-era Celtics are one of the grittiest, more mentally tough units we have ever seen in this city.
This is a team that should have been dead and buried in 2009, when Garnett went down with a knee injury. They should have faded for good in 2010 after losing a Saturday afternoon home game to a pathetic 5-52 New Jersey Nets squad. They should have never denied LeBron James a title in Cleveland that year and they should have never taken his Heat team to seven games last year.
But the Celtics have always had nine basketball lives. Somehow, someway, this franchise has always defied logic.
Ya, the whole “Celtic pride” thing might be a tad corny. And yes, there was little evidence of this mystical force throughout the latter parts of the 1990s and the early years of this century. But it’s truly hard to come up with a more proper word when talking about this current Celtics era and the championship eras gone-by without using that one word. Pride.
The 1987 Celtics are often referenced for playing above their heads, making it all the way back to the Finals that year before bowing to the Lakers. That group was a beaten, battered unit, with Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Danny Ainge and Bill Walton all fighting through injuries (notably McHale with a broken foot) and had no business making a springtime run.
This 2013 team conjures up some memories from that lovable team but it might be more like a C’s team from a few years after the ’87 overachievers. The forgotten 1993 Celtics, truly the last team from that golden Big 3 era, had that pride thing too.
For much different reasons than this year’s squad, that team was absent its best player. Larry Bird had retired the summer prior, so it was up to one certain power forward to lead the Green back to the postseason. McHale, like Garnett, was up to the challenge.
The then-selfless McHale came off the bench that year for the Celtics, allowing the likes of Alaa Abdelnaby to start in his place. No, Abdelnaby never panned out for the C’s. But in a time of major franchise transition, the future Hall-of-Famer allowed the organization to see what it had in the youth department. The young guys needed a chance to play – there just had to be some direction.
That team, led by the likes of Reggie Lewis, Xavier McDaniel, Kevin Gamble, Dee Brown, Sherman Douglas and Parish didn’t make it back to the Finals in ’93. Hell, they weren’t even close, losing to the Larry Johnson/Alonzo Mourning –led Charlotte Hornets in the first round (that was blatant goaltending Kendall Gill!). But that team showed flashes of former greatness and possible future success.
There was a March stretch where the ’93 team won nine games in a row. Fatigue would then set in and they would lose five straight. It was like this for the majority of the season (sound familiar?).
These roller-coaster seasons rarely result in titles, but they are fun to follow.
Twenty years from now, this current Celtics team won’t be known as one of the all-time NBA greats. But they should be recognized as one of the more prideful ones. Let’s agree on that.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor and columnist Matt Burke on Twitter: @BurkeMetroBOS