Mystique. Intimidation. Respect. The Celtics had it all. Although fans and media drooled over the Miami Heat, the Celtics remained the beasts of the east. The Eastern Conference Title still went through Boston… until they got a virus.
Fifteen years ago, in the momentum-swinging scene of the Sci-Fi classic, Independence Day, Jeff Goldblum’s character softly spoke the words that ultimately saved Earth from Alien annihilation, “I gave it a cold. I gave it a virus,” he said. That virus enabled humans to defeat the Aliens and fend off invasion. David (Goldblum’s character in the film), stole the Alien’s armor. The intimidation was gone. He stripped them of their mystique.
While his intent was certainly different, Boston GM Danny Ainge accomplished the same feat by trading Kendrick Perkins in a February deadline deal. Ainge unknowingly uploaded a virus that ultimately brought the powerful Celtics crumbling from within. Their toughness was gone along with their confidence. The continuity they spent 3 ½ years building vanished overnight. The team lost its identity and was badly beaten by both Chicago and Miami late in the season, eventually dropping from first to third in the conference. Most importantly, Boston’s enemies no longer feared them. Miami and Chicago’s artillery could now infiltrate Boston’s once impenetrable force field. It was open season on the Boston Celtics.
Tonight, the Celtics hope to fend off elimination against a Miami Heat team that holds more fear of Boston’s crowd than its players on the court. Dwyane Wade made it clear in Game 1 the Heat, not the Celtics, would set the tone for the series. Boston looked shell-shocked. The Celtics had punked a lot of teams in their four years together, but never had they been so blatantly pushed around, especially in the postseason.
Even as Wade pulled Rajon Rondo to the floor in Game 3, not one Celtic stepped to Wade. Intentional or not, Wade tackled the Celtics’ best chance of winning the series and no one thought to address the situation by getting in Wade’s grill. Shouting and screaming from the bench or across the court (as the Celtics did) doesn’t have the same impact as laying hands on someone. I’m not talking about punching or hitting him, either. That would have been foolish. But bump him, stare him in the face, shove him to the floor; do something. Instead, the Celtics stared blankly as Rondo writhed in pain. The bully became the bullied.
With no one to defend the rim from the high-flying LeBron James and Wade, the Celtics are left wondering what would have been had Perkins not been traded. He may be overrated and slow, but he’s tough and sticks his nose to anyone. Just ask Zach Randolph. The Celtics need that bravado, that irrational confidence to make James and Wade think twice before sailing to the rim. Perkins was the force field protecting the rim. He protected the Celtics. He made Kevin Garnett bolder and gave the team an aura that once intimidated opponents.
His departure cannot be understated. No, he wouldn’t help Boston offensively or even make closing tight games easier. But Perkins clearly meant more to the Celtics emotionally and spiritually than anyone originally thought. Without him, the Celtics are a shell of the team they were just three months ago.
They have a virus. Their force field is gone and opponents are firing at will, inflicting damage with each passing blow. As much as it kills me to admit, it’s only a matter of time before the mother ship comes crashing down. Hopefully, it’s not tonight.