Can the Boston Celtics prevent history from repeating itself?
There is a saying “the more things change the more they stay the same,” and while cryptic, there is a grain of truth in this piece of backward logic.
When one takes a step back and looks at the history of North American sports, forgetting for a moment that every event is an individual occurrence, it is alarming how often history repeats itself. The Portland Trail Blazers made one of the biggest mistakes ever in 1984 when they selected Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan, then did almost the exact same thing 13 years later, taking Greg Oden over Kevin Durant in 2007. The New England Patriots lost the 2007 Superbowl in heartbreaking fashion to the New York Giants, and then had the exact same thing happen again five years later, losing both games on last second drive be Eli Manning and spectacular catches by Giant receivers. One has to assume that these, along with countless other examples, are coincidences and nothing more. However with the way events tend to repeat themselves it is hard not to wonder, which is why one is forced to wonder if the 2012-2013 Boston Celtics are doomed to repeat the early 90’s once again.
There was still a good sense of optimism among Celtic followers going into the 1990-91 season. The Celtics had collapsed in the playoffs the previous year, losing to Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks despite holding a 2-0 series lead. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were all clearly on the back nine of their careers, and Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson were gone at this point. However, the Celtics had still managed to put together a deep and talented team in the early 90s. Reggie Lewis was starting to come into his own, and he along with Brian Shaw and rookie Dee Brown gave Boston a much needed infusion of youth and athleticism, which they used to score fast break points in bunches. Boston jumped out to a 29-3 record, but slumped in the second half and eventually fell to the Detroit Pistons in the second round of the playoffs. The story was much the same for the ’91-’92 season. Bird, McHale and Parish were all slowed by age and injuries, but Lewis and Boston’s strong depth carried them to the Atlantic division crown once again. However in the playoffs they again bowed out in the second round, this time in a tough seven game series with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Does this sound at all familiar? Celtic fans may not want to hear it, but there is an eerie similarity between what was going on in Boston in the early 90’s and what is going on right now. Much like ’90-’91 the 2012-2013 Celtics enter the season with two dynamic stars who have admittedly lost a step or two in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Many argue that McHale was never the same after playing the 1987 playoffs with a broken foot just as they say that Garnett hasn’t been the same since injuring his knee in 2009. Pierce arguably has more left in the tank at this point than Bird did back in the early 90s. After all Pierce has been remarkably durable throughout his career while Bird was so hampered by back injuries in his final two seasons that he could barely stand up by the end. However, Pierce was never as good as Bird to begin with, so the comparison probably comes out pretty even. The early 90’s Celtics offset the aging process by assembling a younger, deeper, more athletic supporting cast thanks to the emergence of Lewis and the acquisition of Shaw and Brown. The 2012-2013 Celtics hope to do the same thanks to the emergence of Avery Bradley and the additions of Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, and Jeff Green. This could almost come right out of the script of Back to the Future.
However, while the strong regular seasons of the early 90’s were nice, no one cares about division crowns in Boston. Thus it’s hard to get over the fact that while the 91′ and 92′ Celtics were both very strong teams, they ended up not having quite enough to get back to the championship. They tried to wedge the title window open a little longer and the light at the end of the tunnel eventually faded from view. The last thing Celtics fans want is to go through all that again. Everyone remembers what happened after the champions of the 80’s walked away – 22 years of darkness that didn’t end until KG came to town. It’s hard not to wonder if the Celtics will be able to keep history from repeating itself.
Thankfully for the current Celtics they have an x-factor that the early 90’s Cs didn’t have – Rajon Rondo. The main reason it is so hard to get a read on the current Celtics is because no one knows just how good Rondo really is. A cynic can argue that he is already as good as he is ever going to get, and his 44 point night against the Miami Heat in the playoffs was the best game he is ever going to have. However one could just as easily argue that Rondo is only scratching the surface of his potential, and that great game against Miami was just the tip of the iceberg. The ’91-’92 Celtics also had a star still playing at a high level in Robert Parish, but unlike Rondo Parish had already reached his full potential by that point, and had simply not been felled by injuries yet the way McHale and Bird had. If anything he has more in common with Pierce than Rondo, who at only 26 is more likely to improve than drop off. There are an alarming amount of similarities between these Celtic squads but, as is seemingly always the case, Rondo is the one outlier.
This once again hammers home the point that the Celtics will only go as far as Rondo takes them. Everyone already knew that. It is a point that has been beaten to death. But the added historic perspective makes it even more apparent. The previous Big Three slowed down as they neared the end of their NBA road. The Celtics offset it by adding a younger and faster supporting cast, but in the end it wasn’t enough. The 2012-2013 Celtics have done the same, bolstering their aging core with an infusion of youth and athleticism. However their main hope in stopping history from repeating itself is Rondo. He is the one piece who doesn’t fit in to the jigsaw puzzle. Take away Rondo and Boston is almost a carbon copy of the team they were 20 years ago. Thankfully they have Rondo, their best hope to break the cycle.