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A disturbing convergence of the four seasons

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  November 18, 2009 08:02 AM

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At this moment, there is positively no joy in Mudville. The perpetual march to one championship or another has been at least momentarily derailed from earth to ice, questions now dotting the four seasons like newly fallen leaves.

Take solace, Bill Belichick. Your team is not the only one dealing with issues at the moment. The Bruins, Celtics and Red Sox are right there beside you, albeit in varying states of concern. Dating back to October, all four of Boston’s title contenders have introduced new doubt about their ability to win another championship, the issues currently aligning in such fashion that we cannot help but come to an obvious conclusion.

These have been truly unique times in Boston sports. To a large degree, we all have been very spoiled. And sooner or later, the good times will end.

Survey: Which Boston team will win the next championship?

The Bruins have lost their last two games, the latter a 4-1 defeat to a wretched New York Islanders team on Monday night at the TD Garden. That loss came 48 hours after the B’s self-destructed in an overtime loss at Pittsburgh that, incredibly, was only the second-most crushing Boston loss of the weekend. Asked if he was ticked off by Monday’s loss on a local radio interview yesterday, Bruins vice president Cam Neely answered in the affirmative.

Clearly, B’s officials are starting to get agitated with the team’s lackluster start, which puts them 11th among the 15 Eastern Conference teams about a quarter of the way into the NHL season.

"Tonight is one of those games where you can look at the stats, take those stats, and throw them in the garbage," coach Claude Julien told reporters after the loss to the Islanders. "We’re almost 70 percent on draws. We outshoot them. Big deal. They were still the better team because they wanted it more than we did. It’s as simple as that. That’s something that, at one point, we didn’t accept, and we did something about it. Hopefully, in the very, very near future, we’re going to turn that kind of thing around."

The Bruins still have plenty of time to turn things around this season. They have had an array of injuries to their top players. Still, one cannot help but wonder if the Bruins are on cruise control, a worrisome development for a team that must win on desire as much as talent. Already, the Bruins have nearly as many home losses (five) as they did all of last season (six).

The Celtics have lost their last two games, the most recent a 113-104 defeat to the Indiana Pacers in which the Celtics were outscored by 18 points in the second half. In that game, the Pacers shot a whopping 52.6 percent from the floor. In consecutive defeats to the Atlanta Hawks and Pacers, the Celtics looked slow and vulnerable against younger and more athletic teams, igniting smoldering concerns about their age.

At the moment, nobody is suggesting that the Celtics can win 70 games anymore. They are pace for precisely 59.6 victories. Now 8-3, the Celtics did not suffer their third defeat last year until Christmas. In 2007-08, their last championship year, the Celtics did not lose for a third time until Dec. 19.

"I thought, obviously, through training camp and the first few games, we got off to a great defensive start," coach Doc Rivers told reporters recently. "And I think we thought it was going to be easy from that point on, and it hasn’t been."

Added the coach of his team’s recent lapses, "That’s not anything that’s alarming but I know to be great we have to be a 48-minute team. Right now, we’re just not. We go in and out, so that’s just something we’ve got to improve on."

The quest begins tonight, at home against Golden State.

The Red Sox lost their last three games of the season, the finale in a back-breaking fashion that made Sunday’s loss by the Patriots feel like a tickle in the throat. In getting swept by the Los Angeles Angels in the American League Division Series, the Red Sox batted a collective .158 and were outscored, 16-7. In the Game 3 meltdown, the Sox held leads of 5-2 and 6-4 in the final two innings before their season collapsed on them.

With the free agency filing period due to end tomorrow, the Red Sox are without a left fielder and shortstop. Designated hitter David Ortiz and third baseman Mike Lowell are both entering the final year of their contracts, and the Sox appear on the cusp of a major overhaul. Between now and next fall, the core of the Sox could be transplanted.

For now, the 2010 season looks like it could be a lean year. Thus far, Theo Epstein’s tenure as general manager seems to have run in three- or four-year cycles, depending on where one draws the line. For instance, from 2003-05, the Sox made the playoffs all three years, winning one world title (2004) while suffering losses in both the League Championship Series (2003, seven games) and ALDS (2005, three-game sweep). In 2006, they finished third. From 2007-09, the Sox won another world title (2007) while suffering losses in both the ALCS (2008, seven games) and ALDS (2009, three-game sweep).

Entering 2010, does anyone else see a pattern here?

The Patriots lost their last game, a spine-crushing, mind-numbing defeat that defied all laws of probability and logic while shredding the air of invincibility that has forever surrounded their coach. The defeat was just as damaging statistically as emotionally, dealing a major blow to the Pats’ chances for a playoff bye and home-field advantage in the postseason. Their Super Bowl hopes took a major hit.

For as much criticism as Belichick has taken in recent days regarding his questionable decision-making on Sunday night, the greater concern may be his apparent loss of faith in defensive football. In the last three seasons, Belichick seems to have put a disproportional amount of faith in his offense. Since Oct. 1 of last year, the Patriots have won just two games when scoring fewer than 23 points, both vs. the Buffalo Bills, one of them a 13-0 decision played in absurdly high winds.

As such, the question really isn’t whether the Pats can stop anyone anymore. The question is whether their coach believes they can.

This week, oddly enough, the Pats will encounter a defense-oriented team in the New York Jets, who won by a 16-9 score in the last meeting between the teams in Week 2. For Belichick and his players, the game is now a must-win given a scheduled trip next week to New Orleans, another offensive powerhouse that plays indoors.

In New England, all across the board, the time has come to stem the tide.

Tony's Top 5

Favorite blog entries

The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
You’ve got to believe June 15, 2011. On the morning of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we all had reason to believe.
Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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