Adam Kaufman

Why the Celtics (and Not the Bruins) Are Your Best Hope for the Playoffs

Marcus Smart celebration.jpg


We live in a sports society where the NFL is king. How else can you explain 305 credential-issued media members attending the league's annual offseason meetings?

Still, even Patriots fans could use a little break to bask in Super Bowl glory for a few more weeks leading up to the NFL draft, not to mention to forget about the free-agent losses of the team's two top defensive backs. Darrelle Revis reminding everyone the Pats weren't close to his asking price is just salt in the wound.

As for the Red Sox, these are the dull moments of spring in a training season that takes weeks too long. David Ortiz isn't interested in grinding through the almost daily bus trips, so he's blaming his absence on dehydration, the flu, general soreness, and whatever else (no complaints here; he'll be ready when he needs to be). The rotation is under scrutiny and many won't let the Cole Hamels rumblings die, including Shane Victorino, who appears willing to drive Mookie Betts to the airport if it saves his own job. Koji Uehara seems closer to receiving those witty over-the-hill birthday cards than he is to taking the mound again. Some are even filling time by debating where well-paid Cuban addition Rusney Castillo should start the season.

In other words, no, I'm not ready for baseball season either, even if Opening Day is somehow just 11 days away in Philadelphia – likely against Hamels.

It may be spring but, in my snow-hating heart, it's still winter.

Come the morning of April 12, we'll know whether the Bruins will be bound for the NHL's second season or breaking out the golf clubs for a longer-than-anticipated summer. Within four days later, we'll know if the Celtics will be gearing up for Brad Stevens’ first postseason coaching experience at the pro ranks or whether his club will be looking to the lottery once again.

At this moment, the C's are in and the B's are out. That mere notion must be more confusing to Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli than deciphering the salary cap in a world tragically without CapGeek.

Anything can happen at this point, though.

The Jekyll-and-Hyde Bruins have lost five straight since winning seven of eight during a 7-0-1 stretch. This is what they do. In the first-half of the season, they won eight of 10 and immediately followed that with losses in eight of 10. In January, the B's won eight of 10 again, before opening February with defeats in seven of eight. The unpredictability, aided by injuries and an ever-evolving lineup, has been staggering.

The Bruins' path to the playoffs is no longer in their hands. They have nine games to play – four at home, five on the road, seven against teams with a chance to make the postseason, and the last three on the road because of scheduling conflicts at the Garden – and they trail the eighth-place Senators by one point for the last Wild Card spot in the East. Ottawa also has a game in-hand. However, it's unlikely the Sens can continue their near-perfect run for 10 more games, even riding a 15-1-1 stretch over the last five weeks. Something, you'd think, has to give for Andrew "Hamburglar" Hammond with tilts against the Rangers, Lightning, Penguins and other playoff-bound squads still to come.

The B's host the Ducks on Thursday; a club that is tied for the second-most points in the NHL with 99 and has an impressive 21-12-4 road record. But Anaheim's not impenetrable. Of the 16 teams currently slated for life after the regular season, the Ducks have the worst goal-differential at just a plus-eight. They allow 2.75 goals per game, 10th-most in the league, and could see a line with Patrice Bergeron centering Brad Marchand and David Krejci tonight in the latter's return from a 15-game absence. I can't be the only one giddy to see what the trio could produce.

Needless to say, Boston's depth is lacking, but desperation will have to be there for a group guilty lately of playing like it has too many passengers and not enough players willing to put in the work required to save some jobs this summer. Chiarelli didn’t behave at the trade deadline like a man afraid of losing his job only months removed from building a Presidents' Trophy winner, but reality has to be sinking in now for him and, fairly or unfairly, for coach Claude Julien by association.

Fatigue won’t be an excuse tonight after three days off following a stretch of 11 games in 18 days. As Milan Lucic has said, the Bruins' playoffs have already started.

The Celtics' remaining 11-game schedule isn’t much kinder, with the team currently sitting in the East's eighth and final playoff spot, but tied at 31-40 with the Pacers and only a half-game ahead of the Nets and Hornets. Moreover, Boston will face Charlotte and Indiana once more each and have two meetings with sixth-ranked Milwaukee, who's four games in front of the Celts. Unlike their Garden roommates, they control their own fate.

The C’s were embarrassed Wednesday night in what was ultimately a more favorable looking 93-86 loss to a depleted Heat roster. Isaiah Thomas returned from a tailbone injury that cost him two weeks and, as he put it, played one of the worst games of his career with four points in 20 challenging minutes. That came four days after a less than stellar late-game effort in an eventual overtime loss against the Pistons and an ugly showing in San Antonio two days prior.

That said, the Celtics are in a very different position than the Bruins. Yes, they have more direct competitors for a postseason bid, but they also have an additional spot they’re in contention for (the 7-seed is only out of reach by two games), they have a lineup they're accustomed to playing with and more continuity and passion than the B’s these days, and three of their last four games will come against the Cavaliers (twice) and Raptors – two superior teams that may very well be of the mind to rest their stars in advance of the first-round of the playoffs.

That doesn't make the Green’s schedule – featuring five home games and six on the road – easy by any stretch, but there are more winnable games left (including matches with the Knicks and Pistons) than the Black and Gold can look forward to.

The Celtics are playing with house money. They aren't supposed to be where they are, they know it, and they're eager to keep surprising people. They're rallying around their coach, while some Bruins might be tuning theirs out in what internally might have been a bridge year from the moment Johnny Boychuk was sent to the Islanders.

For my money, we will see playoff action at the Garden this spring. While I'd prefer that outcome keep the bull gang busy late next month, I think the ice will be melted after Boston University's triumph at the Frozen Four.

Perhaps that's for the best. The Bruins look like an organization in need of a change, one that has gradually wilted since two Stanley Cup Final appearances in three years; the last coming two long seasons ago. The Celtics would benefit more from their young players and second-year coach getting a crack at a playoff atmosphere and playing the games that matter most than they would by counting ping pong balls again, especially since they have enough assets to trade up in the draft should they so choose.

Baseball season's coming, but it'd be nice to push that reality off at least a couple more weeks.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman and email me here.

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