Resilience: The Boston Celtics Team That Acknowledges the Frail Nature of the Human Body But Refuses to Stop Believing in Themselves
It’s tough to say a 55–57 win team that finishes 2nd in the East was really thrown off by injury, but what seems like it will be a deciding blow is the announcement that Kyrie Irving will need a second knee procedure (this time surgery) to remove two screws, knocking him out until next season. The NBA’s most resilient team (or is it the Utah Jazz?) compensated for Gordon Hayward’s Opening Night ankle injury by thrusting their two top lottery picks into prominent roles and seeing Jayson Tatum (preternaturally poised 20 year-old) and Jaylen Brown thrive both offensively and defensively. After losing defensive backbone Marcus Smart on two separate occasions (the second a thumb injury that will force him out until May, if they advance to the second round), Terry Rozier has leapt at the opportunity, showing fierce competitiveness and enough shooting to have teams thinking about prying him loose from the Celtics before he gets a contract extension.
Under a different coach, with a less resilient crew of rookies and 2nd year guys, all of whom were 2nd Round draft picks (Semi Ojeleye, Abdel Nader, and Guershon Yabusele), and valuable bench depth via cheap international free-agent signings (Shane Larkin and now-injured power forward Daniel Theis), these Celtics could easily have won 35–42 games and fans would probably be clamoring for a late lottery pick rather than conceiving of meaningful late April basketball. Instead, they easily secured the 2nd spot: a miraculous achievement, all things considered.
After the Irving announcement, Boston may now be the first underdogs (or toss-ups) in the history of 2nd vs 7th seed first round match-ups. What a bizarre turn.
How do we make sense of all this? What can we realistically hope for in mid-April?
Everyone says think about next year, but this year has seen too much growth from too many current Celtics to abandon any hope for this team as the playoffs are about to begin. My own expectations are that they keep grinding, as they’ve done all year (Memphis East with the Defense!), keep focused on each game as it comes, and grit through a first round series, whether they face the Bucks, the Heat or the Wizards, all three of which have higher-upsides than a typical 7th seed. We shall see. Let’s appreciate the regular season for what it has been: a constant reminder of how resilience and mental toughness can raise a collective group out of potentially dire circumstances. Whatever happens in April, it wasn’t a lost season at all.
A poem, in honor of these Celtics:
“To Be Of Use”
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.