Patriots

Beating the best

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Beating the best

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

After what happened last season, it was hard to take this regular season seriously.

You know, the old Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, Ill whack you below the waist band mentality?

The way the Celtics struggled last winter and then turned it on when it mattered went against everything that wed previously learned about sports. There were some things that were supposed to stand in the way of their success; irreversible, bad habits that were supposed that had the C's programmed to self-destruct. But it never happened, or at least not until the last 20 minutes, and in the end, it left us with a new perspective on the NBA regular season. (Or at least a new perspective on a team with enough credentials to fill its own wing in Springfield.)

If theyre healthy, theyll be fine. Its all about pacing for the playoffs.

The same words the Celtics had recited repeatedly the previous year became the rallying cry for the entire fandom. And thats pretty unbelievable when you think about it. How often do you see that level of trust and understanding, especially in a city like Boston? The Celtics were essentially, preemptively given a pass from the doldrums of an NBA winter.

The deal was:

OK, we know youre good enough to get back to the Finals. We know youre good enough to win. And if the regular season is just a necessary evil, then so be it. Do what you do. Make sure youre ready. In the meantime well just enjoy the ride, celebrate the highs, shrug off the lows and keep counting down until it really matters.

Meanwhile, the team itself never took that approach. They were more fired up and motivated than at any point since 2008. But the pressure around them had been lifted slightly. If they had to pull back the reins at any point to better position themselves (physically) for the playoffs, then that was OK. If they lost to Washington, Detroit or Toronto, it wouldnt be the end of the world. For fans, it just came with the territory. And while that wasnt ideal, if that was the only drawback to an extra year of competing for the title, then it was well worth it. Like Jermaine ONeal; only the exact opposite.

But for the unconditional faith bestowed upon them, there was one thing the Celtics could do. There was a way for them to reward the fans for understanding and make the regular season of perspective a little easier to cope with.

Basically, over the course of the year, there'd be handful of times when the Celtics would have the opportunity to reach down, step up and prove to Boston that their championship team was still there. Thats not to say that that team couldnt show up on a random Tuesday against the Bucks or on a Monday night in Memphis, but for it to really matter, for Boston to really love and trust in that team, it'd have to show up when it mattered most. When they were in a position to turn it up; where fans could watch them at a playoff level in a playoff atmosphere and think, Oh, there they are! Thats fantastic. Now lets get back to pacing for the playoffs.

Sunday afternoon against the Lakers was the latest and greatest example of these Celtics doing their part to ensure that no one waivers in their devotion to what this team can do if healthy for the next five months.

I dont want to make it seem like thats all the Celtics accomplished. I dont want to downplay the victory. CelticsLakers should never be just another example of the Cs going about their business. Given all that was involved, it was an amazing win for Boston.

As far as Sunday afternoons in January go, its almost impossible to be beat. What more could you ask for? A surprise comeback by Delonte West? Rondo posterizing Kobe on a break away? An in-game Brooklyn Decker Cam option on your remote?

Easy, tiger.

A double-digit win in L.A. will always satisfy expectations. Itll turn the grumpiest Celtics fan giddier than Dwight Howard during Saturday morning cartoons. To see the Cs (eventually) play that well, on that floor and against that team, provides a kind of rush that cant be duplicated in Boston sports. Beating L.A. in L.A., and doing in the style the Celtics did with defense, team and intensity vs. Hey, Im Kobe. Me shoot now! just makes you feel good. Better than it did after either of the games against Miami, or the last time against the Magic. In fact, the Heat could trade for Chris Paul, the Magic could move for Carmelo and Deron Williams, and it still wouldnt matter. Nothings as good as beating the Lakers.

At the same time, I dont want to say the win was perfect, either. There are still some issues.

For instance, Rajon Rondo still doesnt have an answer for the Sag-off-Rondo defense. Were in year four that hes been facing it, and it still creates serious problems. I know he finished with 16 assists, and had 15 in the second half, but thats because the Celtics were able to get out in transition and open the game up (plus Kobe wasn't always guarding him). If these two teams meet in the Finals again, there will be times when the transition game is stagnant, and Rondo will be forced to contribute in the half court set while Bryant is guarding him. Right now he cant do it.

But thanks to another big-time, big-game performance by these Celtics, theres still no doubt that they can. In fact, aside from the Christmas Day in Orlando, this team has responded nearly every time they had to. Any opportunity to make a statement, and reward that faith has been seized and delivered upon. And then some.

For now, thats all you can ask for.

And for now, all you can do is keep that perspective. A lot can happen between now and the playoffs. With games coming up against Orlando, the Lakers (again) and Miami, a lot might happen between now and the All-Star Game.

But as long as they're healthy, so will be Boston's spirits.

Although three more big wins certainly wouldn't hurt.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Redskins' 20-10 victory adds to woes for Giants (2-9)

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Redskins' 20-10 victory adds to woes for Giants (2-9)

LANDOVER, Md. - Kirk Cousins threw two touchdown passes to compensate for a pick-6, and the Washington Redskins beat the New York Giants 20-10 on Thursday night on a drab field in a drab game between two injury-depleted teams that did not look ready for prime time. Click here to read more. 


 

Mapping out the Celtics' next super long win streak

Mapping out the Celtics' next super long win streak

That Celtics win streak was dope. Let’s map out an even longer one that probably won’t happen. 

Nobody’s actually expecting them to keep the pace they’ve established with their recently concluded run. Still, with 63 games remaining, there’s still time for the Celtics to have up to three win streaks of even longer than 16 games. So, because it’s the holidays and the holidays are all about positivity (fun move you’ve probably picked up from movies: You can say “the holidays are all about _____” and just put in whatever you want and it will work), let’s map out the next win streak. 

MORE CELTICS:

A big part of the Celtics’ 16-gamer (and get ready to say “duh”) is that they were better than a lot of the teams they beat. But they also beat one team that was without question better than them and beat a few teams that could certainly beat them on any given night. 

Here’s a rough breakdown of the 16 games: 

- Even if they didn’t go as smoothly as anticipated, nine games were against what could be classified as easy prey based on their rosters and how those teams were playing: The 76ers, the Knicks, the Kings, the Hawks twice, the Lakers, the Hornets, the Nets and the Mavericks. 

- Let’s say that the Heat (whom they played and beat during the streak before Miami snapped the streak Wednesday) and Magic weren’t perceived pushovers, but rather unremarkable opponents. 

- Four games were against what one could call worthy opponents for the Celtics: the Bucks, the Spurs (though they were missing Kawhi Leonard), the Thunder and the Raptors. 

- Nobody was ever pretending the Celtics were actually better than the Warriors. 

So that breaks the 16 games into one game against an unequivocally superior opponent, four against worthy opponents, two against unremarkable teams, and nine joke books. 

Of course, there are several variables that can be thrown into that, such as the fact that the C’s beat one of the aforementioned good teams (Toronto) without Kyrie Irving and nearly lost to two of those trash teams (Charlotte and Dallas). You can’t predict injuries just like you shouldn’t predict win streaks, but let’s take all the information we have and try to find the next one:

STARTING FRIDAY

Friday vs. Magic (trash; probable win)

Saturday at Pacers (unremarkable; potential loss)

A back-to-back after a holiday with the second game on the road against a team that’s been way better than expected? I don’t like the sound of it. 

Nov. 27 vs. Pistons (worthy opponent; potential loss)

Are they overrated? Maybe, but Pistons currently hold the second spot in the Eastern Conference. Whether it’s the Pacers or the Pistons, I think this short stretch prevents a speed bump. The streak might have to wait. 

STARTING NOV. 30

Nov. 30 against Sixers (upgraded to unremarkable based on recent play; still win)

Remember: The last streak started against the Sixers. Hopefully, Kyrie pays that fans’ way to Boston for a halftime reunion. 

Dec. 2 vs. Suns (trash; win)

Dec. 4 vs. Bucks (worthy opponent; win)

Celtics aren’t losing to those sons of guns twice at home. 

Dec. 6 vs. Dallas (trash; win)

Can you get revenge on a team for almost beating you? Yes. The Celtics will. 

Dec. 8 at Spurs (worthy opponent; win)

Until I see Kawhi on the court, this one is a win. 

Dec. 10 at Detroit (worthy opponent; win)

The Pistons play the Spurs, Bucks and Warriors the three previous games. They’ll be all tuckered out. 

Dec. 11 through Dec. 23 (mix of unremarkable and trash opponents; seven wins)

Dec. 25 vs. Wizards (worthy opponent; win)

Terry Rozier becomes a household name with a Christmas performance for the ages. 

Dec. 27 at Charlotte (trash; win) 

Dec. 28 vs. Houston (worthy opponent; win) 

Dec. 31 vs. Brooklyn (trash; loss)

The Celtics are 0-1 the days prior to holidays this season. The streak ends at 18. 

THE REST OF THE SEASON

We'll assess it then, but for now, let's say undefeated (including playoffs).