29-3: The Pundits Finally Start to See the Light
Doc Rivers has done his best thus far to hold down the hysteria around the Celtics. But with a victory at Detroit on Saturday, a 4-0 road trip out west late last month and a 29-3 overall record, the coach now has no shot.
With Sports Illustrated set to join the praise parade with a feature story, and national outlets regularly staffing games, the hype-ometer is about to red line.
Rivers knows a tidal wave when he sees one.
``Well, I'm not going to try to keep it down as far as outside of us because I can't control that,'' he said. ``But inside of us, we know that Detroit's won a title, Cleveland's been to the Finals, San Antonio's won a title and we've done nothing. And that is something I will never stop telling this team because the day we start thinking about it and thinking we're all set is the day we'll be in trouble.''
Looking at the split with Detroit thus far (the Pistons won at the Garden on Dec. 19), the Celts clearly are no sure bet to get out of the Eastern Conference come playoff time.
But the warning has been issued: Basketball fans in this area should stock up for the coming storm. Food, water, ice, heart medication.
Assuming the NBA air traffic control information is correct, the Celtics and Pistons are most definitely headed for a playoff collision that will bring every boxing cliche to life.
The Celtics certainly proved they're ready to rumble with the 92-85 win Saturday. But while they took pleasure in the payback, they were able to summon some perspective.
``No statement,'' Kevin Garnett said after the victory. ``I just think you've got two good teams in the league. If you're in the East, it's going to definitely have to come through Detroit, along with Cleveland and some other teams. They beat us; we beat them. Nothing more, nothing less than that.''
Rivers, meanwhile, isn't hiding his joy with the turn of events for his C's.
``I like the team,'' he said. ``I love who we are. But beyond having good talent, the whole reason it's working right now is because everyone's willing to come out when we sub for them. Nobody cares about who's getting minutes and who's not. Nobody cares about those individual things. If we keep that, we're in good shape.''
Garnett echoed that sentiment.
``I love how we are as a team,'' he said. ``I love how we mesh. I love how a (expletive) can crack a joke on me and I can crack a joke on him. When I tell somebody something, it's not like I'm trying to (knock) him. When they tell me something, it's not like they're not respecting me. Ain't none of that. Man, we've got a really, really, really rare group of guys, and it starts with Doc. He laid that down from Day 1.''
So when Glen Davis went through a seven-game stretch that included three token appearances and two games he didn't get in at all, he didn't grouse. The rookie simply came out Saturday and scored 16 of his career-high 20 points in the last quarter.
``You can't worry about whatever goes on,'' Davis said. ``The coaches make decisions for the team, and I'm all for it. . . . I've just got to be ready to play.
``The season's real long. You've always got to keep your head in the right situation. You can't worry about DNPs. The only thing you can worry about is W's.''
And if the wins add up to a heavyweight showdown with the Pistons deep in the playoffs, well, that's just fine with the Celtics.
``It'd be pretty nice,'' Rivers said. ``That means we've gone pretty far, and that means they've gone pretty far. I think both teams, if you said that right now, would be happy to see it.''
For now, it seems both squads are trying to get in position to do some NASCAR-type drafting.
Although Rivers told Saturday's Herald that, ``no matter the records, they're still ahead of us in our mind,'' Detroit doesn't mind trailing the first-place C's in the conference standings.
``I'm happy that they jumped out like that and they're getting all the press,'' Chauncey Billups said. ``I like for us to fly under the radar, just do what we do and keep it moving. Also, I think they deserve it. It's a team that won (24) games last year and added a couple of great pieces. They deserve the press they're getting.
``It's the best for us. We're at our best when we're hunting and not being hunted. Obviously, we're being hunted by some teams under us, but the big fish right now is Boston. We're at our best when we're in that situation.''