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Steering towards the Weird since 2010


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Celtics trade Isaiah Thomas to Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving and Nihilism wins the day


Danny, you broke my heart. You broke my heart!

If you are looking for a case against being a sports fan in 2017, Celtics GM Danny Ainge has served it up for you with his latest mega-deal, the trade that will send Isaiah Thomas to the Cleveland Cavaliers along with Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick for Kyrie Irving. It is a bad deal for the Celtics in several ways, but it is a horrible deal for Celtic fans to an almost absurd degree. It is not just “sports are a business,” and this is business as usual. It is championship-chasing nihilism- the belief that there is nothing about the sports-fan experience that means anything except getting a fucking piece of jewelry. Maybe most fans really do just root for laundry and would trade their soul for a few duck boats on parade, but I’m not there yet. I still care a little who wears the jerseys I’m watching, who rides in those boats.

Being a fan is not a rational thing. There is no earthly reason why anyone should sacrifice their time, their emotional energy and their joy and heartache to a group of strangers playing a game. The modern sports world has been forced to confront rationality on all fronts. The gut-feelings of old men that once ruled these games have been banished in favor of precision calculations, data sets and probability tables. And that is a good thing. Reason should win out over superstition and the end of superstitions has improved performance, pushed boundaries and created an era that has seen some of the greatest performances for both teams and individuals. If you are the GM of a major sports franchise, it is vital that you divorce yourself from sentimentality and build a winner at any cost. But if fandom is an inherently irrational thing, maybe the cold rationality of the modern front office can go too far?

That is what happened today.

Nevermid all the rational, calculated reasons this was a bad deal. I’ll get to those. Isaiah Thomas’ 2016-2017 season was special. It was historic in several ways, but it was not the record-setting numbers that made it such a joy to watch. Everyone loves David-and-Goliath stories and, at 5’9, Thomas will forever be cast as David, but his 2016-17 season wasn’t that either. David might beat Goliath but he usually doesn’t burn three Goliath’s in the paint at will with the Kingdom on the line. The season that spawned the King in the Forth meme was the kind of magical occurrence that makes it worth watching sports. Here was this guy- too small for his sport of choice- who bounced around the court with the kind of ease that only comes with a tortuous commitment to making difficult things look easy. He scored at will. He beat double-teams and triple-teams. He buried wild step-backs and crazy-deep threes. He did it without the obvious athleticism of Westbrook, the length of Kawhi, or the flashy moves of Harden. He did it all with a smile that fell just short of hiding the Everest-sized chip on his shoulder*. He did it when it mattered most and when everyone was trying to stop him.

*A chip that just got bigger, BTWs.

That King-in-the-Fourth thing would have been enough to make 2016-17 a season Celtics fans held dear, but when tragedy struck on April 15, 2017, Isaiah Thomas’ season became something else entirely. After losing his sister in a car accident, Isaiah Thomas didn’t step away from the court- a choice that would have been completely understood by anyone with a functioning soul. Instead, he returned to the game he had given up so much for and gave it something that will ring out as long as there are fans who can remember watching it. On the day his sister would have turned 23, Thomas played the greatest game of basketball I have ever seen. It might be irrational to care about sports, but when you watch a game like that, it makes sense in some deep way that we can’t get at with words and numbers.

You don’t trade that easily. You certainly don’t trade that for a minor upgrade with an extra year of control.

But that is what Danny Ainge has done. Because this is what GMs do when they forget that irrational thing at the heart of the game. Without that, ther are too eager to make the headline-grabbing deals, even when they are wrong. They chase rings and only rings and think of nothing else. They forsake all the reasons we watch the games to make sure they can win those games, under the theory that winning will bring the fans.  But what if it doesn’t work? What if they are wrong? What if I don’t what to watch the Kyrie-Celtics for some irrational reason. It was irrational to watch in the first place, right? The NBA might be selling games, but they are really selling stories. How disposable can characters be before we are out on the story itself?

Even Game of Thrones, a show built on brutally punishing our expectations of loyalty to its characters has not been able to do what Danny Ainge just did. There is a part of me that keeps expecting Isaiah to crawl out on to the ice and catch a horse back to Boston. But it isn’t going to happen. And that only leaves the question, why am I watching this anyway?


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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.