Spaceman's Pancakes

Steering towards the Weird since 2010


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NBA Playoffs: The Boston Celtics and the Season of the Weird


Tonight the Boston Celtics continue their playoff run against the Philadelphia 76ers, playing the role of underdogs despite home court advantage and the superior regular season record. They are underdogs because their best player, point guard Kyrie Irving, will not play this spring following knee surgery. Their game-one win, like the rest of their improbable run to the second seed in the East, surprised just about everyone. Since five minutes into the season, when their star free-agent acquisition, Gordon Heyward, fell to a horrific leg injury, this Celtics team has been recalibrating people’s expectations almost night-to-night.

The plot points for the Celtics season have the feel of a sappy sports film. Their big star addition goes down in the opening, throwing a 19-year-old Jayson Tatum into the NBA fray. He steps up and proves he can hang throughout a 16-game winning streak in Act One, but the long grind of the season chips away at this plucky band of youngsters and at the close of Act Two, their other star, Irving goes down, leaving only the kids and “Average Al”- the much-maligned max-contract star to face down a seven-foot tall Greek Freak and then the ascendant 76ers before the climatic (and heroic-tragic) battle with the Big-Bad- The King, Lebron.

But though the broad-stroke outline of the 2017-2018 Celtics season reads like a Sean Astin-in-an-indie-hoops-film, from a fans perspective, it has felt like something else entirely.  Like something closer to The Big Lebowski or Friday. A season drenched in psychedelia and funk. The 2016-2017 Celtics season owns the claim to the dramatic archs, with the “King in the Fourth” run for Isaiah Thomas leading to heartbreak and betrayal. 2018 is the Season of the Weird, both for the Celtics and for the sporting world in general. The strange synergy between the raw, young talent in Boston’s TD Garden and the bizarre phenomenon of #weirdcelticstwitter has been one of the most fun experiences of my sports-watching life and, I believe, a foreshadowing of the bold, insane, new world of closer fan-player relations.

It is hard to define exactly what Weird Celtics Twitter is. It’s like porn, I suppose. You know it when you see it (and also, you spend way too much time staring at it after your wife and kids are asleep- A-YO! amirite!). It is definitely certain specific things though. It’s Tito-Three Sticks, Third of his Name.  It’s Combat Muscles. It’s Mad Brad and Dabuselethe third eye and Terrygarcia. It is Smarf* and, of course, is Janos. Weird Celtics Twitter is not unlike many other things I have found myself in close proximity to throughout my life. It’s a weird, nerdy niche group that is full of inside jokes and obscure references that only matter to “us,” whoever the “us” might be. I can’t claim to be part of it, but following the antics of WCT has been one of my favorite things in 2018.

*I will go to my grave believing there is a connection between Smarf and the 2013 Over the Monster nickname for Shane Victorino, Shanf. To. My. Grave. 

But the thing that has made the Celtics so fun this season and made Weird Celtics Twitter so fun, is that those two worlds, which should be so, so, separated, have been…can I say copasetic. At the very least, there has been interplay and that is the weirdest thing about Weird Celtics Twitter. This should be a thing that only matters to a small group of fans, but it has bled into the mainstream and infected it with its weirdness in the best possible ways.

Celtics GM Danny Ainge has responded to the strange Celtics-and-soup twitter poster Janos, WCT’s OG. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor (a Celtics fan, originally) says he tried to reference Thick-Jacked (a variation of the Combat Muscles meme) in a Ringer article. Terry Rozier even ended up embracing the Scary Terry nickname to settle down the Tito*>T-Ro beef instigated by Sam “Jam” Packard, one of the Locked-On Celtics podcast hosts. Now, the nickname is everywhere. If this isn’t wonderful shit, you and I define “wonderful shit” very differently.

*#TeamTito- for life!

Weird Celtics Twitter is having its moment in part because it is the perfect storm of a team and fanbase. These things happen in sports and they are always great. What makes WCT feel different to me is the way it fits with the new media world that the NBA and its players are so eager to embrace. It is not the world of Michael Jordon in Spike-Lee-directed Nike spots and Warner Brother movies. It is the world where Isaiah Thomas releases the extremely personal “Book of Isaiah” on Youtube through The Player’s Tribune. It is the world where Kevin Durant has burner accounts to argue with twitter eggs about his free agency choice and where he coins the term “blog boys” on a podcast, The Ringer puts it on a T-shirt, and Steph Curry wears it to the next game.

Vertical integration in media is gone. Now everything goes everywhere. If you are a cult player and back-up point guard, you jump on the chance to get a few hundred weirdos who love you to embrace your brand, even if it means donning a scream mask and ditching the nickname T-Ro for Scary Terry. Now, the inside jokes have a path straight into the heart of the culture.

And the memes feed themselves. As Celtics players embraced their own weirdness, WeirD Celtics Twitter embraced them more. Kyrie Irving was respected as an elite talent, but his role as IT replacement and his ridiculous flat-earth comments made fans weary of him as a celebrity. Rather than glad-hand Neil Degrasse Tyson and say, “my bad,” Kyrie steered toward the weird and clarified his flat-earth statements with even more obscura and brought fans through the looking glass until it became a kind of charming psuedo-intellectual-goofball mysticism. 

The history of sports has mostly been the history of players distancing themselves from the fans. Back in early days of baseball, fans could talk to the players on the bench, move the home run fences forward and back and even see their guys at the bar or the local hotel. The need for security for the athletes and the sports have pushed the two sides apart, but if Weird Celtics Twitter and the 2018 Celtics are any indication, that separation may be waning in a world where intellectual connection does not require physical connection and the two sides are constantly engaged in a strange kind of dialogue that encompasses what happens on the court, in the media, in marketing rooms and ad agencies and on social media.

It is possible that this is simply a chance occurrence; the story of the right team and the right fanbase coming together, but the Celtics Season of the Weird seems like more than that to me. It seems like the first step in fans and players moving closer together in a way that is unique to the world that social media has created.


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Thoughts on the Celtics Beating by the Warriors


On Friday, I looked at the possibility of an exciting battle between the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics. On Friday night, these two teams delivered the opposite; The Warriors beat the Celtics 104-88. Eve that lopsided score that even undersells just how badly Boston was dominated by Kevin Durant and company.

There is no point recapping the game two days and an exciting Celtics win later, but I do want to share a few observations from this game because I think they are informative about this Boston team.

  • The Celtics are wildly uneven: The biggest issue was Boston was the lack of Jae Crowder and Al Horford. Without two of their top five, Boston had to depend on, Terry Rozier, Tyler Zeller and rookie Jaylen Brown for more than 20 minutes each and also saw double-digit minutes from Kelly Olynick and Gerald Green. Even without Horford and Crowder, Boston kept pace with the Warriors for the first two quarters, then came a 31-9 third quarter that buried Boston. After the game Isiah Thomas was left saying the team, including the coaching staff, gave up in this one and citing his own lack of playing time (he played 27:35) as evidence. That dig at his coaches might be more plausible if he wasn’t -20 for the game. Boston either couldn’t score or couldn’t stop the warriors from scoring at will. The distinction between the best lineups the Celtics can put on the floor and their plan-B options is huge and they can’t hang with the NBA’s top teams until they can bridge that gap some.
  • Isiah Thomas has crazy good handles: It should seem obvious that a 5’8 guard would be an elite ball-handler, but Thomas doesn’t get enough credit for it, in my opinion. In terms of ball-handling the ball, he belongs in the conversation with Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul for the best in the game. He isn’t muscling his way to the basket, after all.
  • This was not the game for Klay Thompson to get his groove back: Thompson has been the Warrior struggling the most this season, but you won’t know it from the game against Boston. Klay lead the Warriors in points with 28 and was second to Durant, who utterly dominated Boston on the boards and in the paint in +/-. Stopping Durant was a lost cause without Horford and Crowder, but Boston did a solid job containing Curry (16 points) and might have hung around longer if Thompson hadn’t murdered them in that dismal third quarter. Boston needed Thompson to stay cold to have a chance without two starters and he heated up in a major way.
  • Jaylen Brown is lost: Brown is got so much obvious ability, but there are far too many times when he just looks lost out there. If the Celtics are going to give him twenty-plus minutes a game at this point, they are going suffer for it. Thomas may have been right about the coach staff surrendering in this game and if so, they probably did the right thing for the future by giving Brown so much time, but it wasn’t easy to watch. The rookie is a major liability on defense and doesn’t seem to have any idea what role he needs to play on offense for long stretches. If this game was meant to push him forward, that’s not the worst thing that could come out of this loss, but if he is going to be a contributor in the future, he needs to take lessons like this to heart.
  • The Warriors are just really, really good: I’m serious. I think these guys have a future in this game.
  • No, really, they are awesome: Really, for everything that you can read into this game about the Celtics, the only real moral of the story is that Golden State has too many weapons for almost any team to stop and far too many for a depleted Celts squad. They are obviously pacing themselves now and it will be tons of fun to see these guys when summer rolls around.


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NBA: Celtics vs Warriors Something Like a Preview


Tonight, the Boston Celtics are playing the defending Western Conference champions and undisputed Super-team, the Golden State Warriors. For both Celtics fans and Warriors  fans, this has to be considered must-see TV.

I count myself in both camps, though I am first and foremost a Celtics fans. I like the Warriors as well, primarily for Steph Curry, who is far more the kind of superstar basketball player I enjoy than Lebron James or Kevin Durant. I also enjoy the Warriors for their much-hyped style of play. I’m not ready to declare it game-transforming just yet, but watching a team that prioritizes three-pointers, spreading the floor and moving the ball around the perimeter is fascinating to me. The warriors are the gold standard for this style, but the Celtics play something similar, especially when Isiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder are firing on all cylinders.

I say Curry is the kind of star player I prefer not out of some quality judgment about his merits over those other guys, but because of my own idiosyncratic tastes for basketball players. I like the short guys. I’m short and slight and so I like the short, slight guys, especially when they are also awesome. I like Dustin Pedrioa and Jose Altuve. I like Wes Welker and Julien Edelman. I loved Earnest Givens. I was mildly obsessed with Spud Webb as a kid. Curry is not that short, really. He’s listed at 6’3, but that is NBA short and it is a hell of a lot more relatable to me than a monstrous physical specimen like Lebron or KD. I like both them as players and as people, but I am only really fascinated by players who don’t make sense in some way and Curry doesn’t make sense as the best player in the league in just the right way for me.

You can probably guess that if I like 6’3-otherwordly-shooting Steph Curry for the freakish way he succeeds, I am an even bigger fan of Boston’s 5’8 Isiah Thomas. Thomas was an All-Star last season and he has been even better over the first nine games of this season. If you were to be extremely generous, you might even call him the poor-short-man’s Steph Curry. Like Curry, he plays the point and has the elite handles and drive-to-the-hoop ability you expect from a player at that position. No one is like Curry when it comes to shooting beyond the arc, but Thomas is a strong three-point shooter and that adds an extra dimension to his game at the one that is not entirely unlike what Curry’s shooting ability gives Golden State.

These players and similarity is the main reason I am extremely excited about this game. Boston is far from being a Golden State clone; even before the addition of Durant, the Warriors were not a team that could just be copied. However, like GS, Boston features a point guard (Thomas) who is also the team’s top scorer. IT is averaging 27.1 points per game and has carried the Celtics at times with Al Horford and Jae Crowder out of the lineup. Curry is averaging 27.9 PPG, even without having to the carry the offense as much as he has in the past. Both teams start with the point guard and their shooting ability, forcing teams to step up on them and open up the court for other players, and both guys can make their way to hoop when the defense over-commits to the perimeter.

Behind Curry there has been Klay Thompson, one the greatest outside shooters in the history of the game in his own right. This season, Boston seems to have found a legit second option  in Avery Bradley. Bradley has been a good three-point guy, but now he also has the ability to create off the dribble, making him a much more versatile player on offense.  With the addition of Al Horford, the Celtics have a forward who excels at passing and can help create space for these two. If both he and Jae Crowder return for tonight’s game, the Celtics should have the defense to match up with Golden State as much as that can be done with Curry, Durant, Green and Thompson all on the floor.

If the Celtics strategy last season was to somewhat harass and contain Curry while shutting down Green and Thompson, now that won’t be enough. If Jae Crowder doesn’t play or is limited, the Celtics have a very difficult time matching up against Durant. If Al Horford is also out and the rebounding stays as bad as it has been, the Celtics are in serious trouble. Boston was expected to be a strong defensive team and when healthy they have the talent to be just that, but they haven’t been healthy yet this season and their offense has had to carry them.

If Boston can do something close to what they did against the Warriors on defense last season  with Durant in the mix, it will be a crazy game. They will still struggle with Durant, but fortunately, on offense, they seemed to be a step above where they were last season. In his masslive piece on the game, Tom Wetherhold pointed out that Warriors are not playing up to their 2015-2016 level on defense either  and predicted a shoot-out. The Warriors probably win any shootout scenario, but the possibility of that kind of game is certainly not a reason to turn this one off. Boston is a top-ten offense so far and that is without Crowder and Horford for a number of games. If they return, the defense and rebounding should come with them. They can press this Warriors team on both ends of the court and they can make life hard, even for Durant, even if they can’t stop him.

Adding Kevin Durant made the Warriors into the heels for most NBA-non-warriors fans. It reminds me most of when the already-fearsome 2003 Yankees added Alex Rodriguez. It just seemed like a Bridge too far. Even more than Lebron’s decision, it has created the impression that the league has a parity problem and that will play out in the next CBA. The Celtics beat the pre-Durant Warriors. They probably couldn’t do it in a seven-game series, but they could pull it off here and there. With Durant, it doesn’t seem possible, but even at 9-2 this season, the Warriors haven’t dominated quite as expected. If this team is just pacing themselves, they could drop this one to a finally-healthy Celtics team. If they do, they should hear even more questions about whether this Superteam isn’t gelling right. It may all be just hype, but it will probably happen anyway.

On the other side. Boston overachieved last season and now have to deal with expectations. Those expectations don’t include hanging with the Warriors, but Boston needs to justify their place in the first division in the East with something more than wins over weak teams. The Celtics are 6-5 and in the middle of the Eastern conference pack, and a few of those losses have been pretty ugly. If they want to make a statement- maybe to some trade candidates or upcoming free agents- this is the game for it. The stakes aren’t as high for the Warriors, but they have last season’s loss to avenge and their newly found role as the bad guys to live up to. Either way, it’s a game that you have to watch.