by Mike Moffett
Weirs Times Columnist
The NBA playoffs start on Saturday and I’ve got a good feeling about the Boston Celtics’ chances. Last year the Celtics surprised many by just making the post-season tournament and this year they should take things to the next level. Maybe the next couple levels. Maybe the NBA Finals!
I write this as a long-time Celtics fan, so my feelings come more from my heart than my head. After all, the Celtics remain a very young team without a superstar. Their top player, Isaiah Thomas, is around 5-foot-8. When’s the last time any college or pro team won a title, led by someone 5-foot-8?
But the young Boston team is deep, well-coached by Brad Stevens, and they have a certain “Je ne sais quoi.” That’s French lingo for “an indefinable, elusive, pleasing quality.”
I saw the Celtic “Je ne sais quoi” on full display earlier this month in Oakland, at the Oracle Arena, where the Golden State Warriors had won 54 straight home games.
Led by Steph Curry, the Warriors are also the defending NBA champions. Their qualities are quite obvious—neither indefinable nor elusive. They’re deep, talented, and explosive offensively. And by all accounts, Steve Kerr is a special kind of coach.
The Oracle is 50 years old, about the oldest arena in the league. It’s become a snake-pit for visitors—like what the old Boston Garden was for Celtic opponents, as in 1985-86 when Boston went 40-1 there, the best NBA home record ever. But the Warriors were looking to finish the season as the first-ever team to go undefeated at home, breaking the record of my Celtics.
So I found myself fervently hoping to see the young Celtics beat the Warriors on their home court. You have to love an underdog, especially when it’s YOUR underdog facing the defending champs in THEIR house in front of 16,000 screaming fanatics. But at least 3,000 of the 19,000 fans in attendance were Boston fans like me, hoping to see an historic upset.
The scrappy Celtics led by two at halftime, despite the fact that their best player—Thomas—didn’t score a single point.
Curry caught fire in the third period, as the league MVP scored 21. But Thomas put on some different sneakers and emerged from the locker room as a different player, scoring 18 third quarter points himself. The Celtics responded again and again to maintain their lead.
Missed free throws (19-30 for 63%) dogged Boston. A local fast food chain offers free burgers to fans if a visiting team shoots under 80% from the line, and the fans did their part in distracting shooters. But Boston made the big free throws down the stretch to win 109-106.
The Warrior win-streak thus ended, thrilling me as I’d not been thrilled in years. I hugged all the adjacent Celtic fans.
“Hope to see you back here for the Finals,” said a Warrior fan.
“Sounds good to me!” I responded. If the Celtics can beat the Warriors, they certainly have a chance against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Finals, ahoy!
On the way out I received my coupon for the free burger, as the Celtics shot well below 80% from the foul line. I gave it away. The Warriors can keep their burgers.
I’ll take “Je ne sais quoi!”
What NBA player had his number retired by THREE teams? (Answer follows)
Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on April 14 include the all-time MLB Hit King Pete Rose (1941) and MLB pitching legend Greg Maddux (1966).
“It’s great to see the Celtics doing well again, because it was so much fun in my day to go to the Boston Garden and get spit at, get things thrown at you and have people talk about your mom. Like dinner at Kenny Smith’s house.” – Charles Barkley
Wilt Chamberlain’s #13 was retired by the Warriors, Lakers, and 76ers. It was also retired by the Harlem Globetrotters.
Michael Moffett is a Professor of Sports Management at NHTI, Concord’s Community College. He recently co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines)—which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is email@example.com.