The amount of media I inhale on a weekly basis is astounding. My saturation threshold for television, movies, music, and, of course, sports is non-existent. Part of this consumption level is caused by pure occupational curiosity (In addition to this sports column, I occasionally freelance as an arts and entertainment critic), and another portion stems from a desire to keep up with the Jones’s (My propensity to stay in touch with pop culture-centric conversations is sort of a lifelong curse). Regardless, some would call this lifestyle “unhealthy” (and they would probably be right).
When it comes to consumption, my viewing habits are hardly exclusionary. I’ll be the first to admit that not everything I watch, listen to, or read is “Mad Men”, Tom Petty, or the New York Times. My weekly intake includes just as much (and in some cases more) reality TV, Taylor Swift, and Barstool Sports. Beyond the Dear God! Did you see that! … remarks, I don’t espouse this type of entertainment to friends or readers, but in the same light, I don’t disparage it either. And that’s because there is something to be said for simply enjoying something for what it is.
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I feel the same way about watching the Boston Celtics.
Since Kevin Garnett arrived in 2007, the Celtics have played in 456 regular season games and taken part in 93 postseason battles. Even without spoiler alerts, I know how the finale of this show is (likely) to end. As I’ve previously written, Rajon Rondo was the puncher in the Boston’s “puncher’s chance” to advance passed the Miami Heat in June. Still, here the Celtics are: scrapping together wins, hanging around, and just surviving. Whether it’s gutting out an overtime win against the Hawks or keeping pace with the Thunder, every game is a challenge. Make no mistake about it, these days, a Celtics game never feels like the Patriots breezing by an AFC East opponent in the fall (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
And how the Celtics choose to meet that challenge head-on speaks volumes about their fortitude. I realize this is rather counterintuitive, but removing championship aspirations from the equation has subconsciously enhanced the viewing experience. Like a bad episode of the HBO show “Girls,” I have no expectations with this iteration of the C’s. And I’ve found that playing with house money before you even get to the casino is eerily liberating. You start to appreciate the little things: Avery Bradley’s zero-tolerance defense, Jason Terry misplaced confidence, Jeff Green’s two-way growth, Paul Pierce’s old-man game, everything about Kevin Garnett, Jordan Crawford’s curious shot selection, Chris Wilcox’s hustle, Brandon Bass’ potential and Brandon Bass’ shortcomings. Most of all, you appreciate that the Celtics still believe in themselves.
“I think we're going to be that team that nobody wants to play in the playoffs. Right now we're so unpredictable," Paul Pierce said in a recent interview with NBA.com's David Aldridge. "You don't know what we're capable (of). You look up and we play teams, sometimes we lose to bad teams, and then we beat the better teams. We don't know which Boston team is going to show up, and at any given moment we can get hot and beat the best of the best in the NBA.”
Pierce is right. On any given night, you don’t know how the Celtics will fare. And even while the team is exceeding expectations, the lack of style points obtained to do so is simultaneously endearing and confounding. Removing Rondo from the experience has been, in nearly every sense, a beautiful disaster.
Watching Boston plod to victory is the closest thing to sports masochism I’ve ever encountered: I hate the way they play – living by mid-range jumpers (Boston ranks in the bottom-six in shots attempted in the paint) -- but I appreciate how they play. The uglier the game gets, the better the Rondo-less Celtics perform. Case in point, Boston is 15-1 in games when they give up 90 points or less. They are getting by with stinginess and effort. In the last 20 games, the Celtics rank second in defensive rating giving up just over 97 points per 100 possessions and third in opponents’ effective field goal percentage (an advanced statistic that adjusts basic field goal percentage to account for 3-pointers).
So, when the trade deadline came and went, I found myself firmly entrenched in the anti-Blow It Up camp. My theory was that guys like Avery Bradley and Jeff Green playing competitive games at this stage of their career will help the team down the road. Trading Pierce or Kevin Garnett precludes this experience.
I was lying to myself, though. The real reason I couldn’t bring myself to quit on the Celtics is because they refuse to quit on themselves. A group of Grumpy Old Men, so stubbornly persistent it’s maddening. So screw logic. The Celtics are not going to change; not at this juncture, anyway. I can appreciate that; although, as Pierce alluded to, come playoff time, I don’t think the rest of the league will.
Ryan Hadfield is a columnist for Metro Boston. Follow him on Twitter @Hadfield_