We're a dozen games into the Celtics season that almost wasn't, and no, the thought that the entire 2011-12 season could have been wiped out by a lockout is not wishful hindsight brought on by watching the green slog their way to defeat in two-thirds of their game so far.
Yes, it looks bleak. This was supposed to be a last hurrah, and there hasn't been a whole lot of hurrah so far, with two-thirds of The Big Three (The Sequel) either aging before our eyes, injured, out of shape, or some combination thereof.
Ray Allen is such a freak that I have no doubt he'll be drilling 3s off a contender's bench when he's on the wrong side of 40, and who would have thought when he arrived here four years ago, coming off serious ankle injuries, that he'd be the one with the most staying power? We're lucky to watch him, and it drives me crazy that he doesn't get more shots, particularly when the offense is laboring.
At the moment, the same can't be said regarding staying power for his future fellow Springfield inductees. Paul Pierce showed up heavy, got hurt and it's difficult to tell which is the chicken and which is the egg there. This much is certain: It's unrealistic to expect everyone to match Allen's commitment to fitness, but I'm disappointed Pierce arrived in less-than-optimal shape. Since his early years in the league, he's had an old man's game, all geometry and fakes, and that's a compliment. But with his timing not properly calibrated because his legs aren't in shape, he's too often ended up with an old man's results.
Presuming Pierce stays healthy and isn't traded (more on that a few aphorisms from now), he'll sharpen up and those relatively efficient 24-point games like the one he dropped on Oklahoma City will become a frequent and familiar as ever. But if you want to see vintage Kevin Garnett, I'm afraid you'll have to tune into NBA TV during the down hours. He's averaging 13 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, and the sad truth is that's what he is these days. In Big Three parlance, he's Robert Parish circa 1992-93, the difference being that The Chief was 38 years old then. If you want any of those 20/10 KG flashbacks, I suggest Hardwood Classics, or better yet, your 2007-08 championship DVD.
Still, while fully acknowledging the reality of the situation, I don't want Danny Ainge -- to borrow that annoying operative phrase these days -- to "blow it up." Trading Garnett and Allen makes absolutely no sense in the big picture if for no other reason than the massive salary cap space they will leave behind when their contracts expire after this season. While skepticism regarding their ability to convince a max-contract player or two to sign with Boston is understandable -- you've got to sell this place, Doc -- letting them go has to be part of Ainge's master plan.
The possibility of trading Pierce . . . well, that's trickier. It's understandable to believe he should be a Celtic for life; his No. 34 will hang in the rafters someday, appropriate since his game is somewhere on the hallowed spectrum between Larry Bird's and Reggie Lewis's. But one of Ainge's attributes as a general manager is his lack of sentiment. Sometimes it backfires -- yes, we were reminded Monday, Kendrick Perkins is beloved and missed by those in the stands and the locker room, even if the trade was made for all the right reasons -- but it's great to have a general manager who his daring enough and emboldened to do what he believes is right. He saw the original Big Three get old -- at least right up until he was the one from that classic '80s Celtics starting five who got traded -- and he's said he would not allow that to happen here. If he feels he can get real value for Pierce, I trust him to do it.
But the time is not now. Not yet. It's frustrating to look at the five-game losing streak, the 4-8 record, realize that nearly 20 percent of the schedule is already complete, and conclude that it's time to . . . heck, you know the phrase. No matter how negative your perception of this team is right now, no matter how much Jermaine O'Neal reminds you of "Rigor" Artis Gilmore, or no matter how rude the awakening was Monday that Russell Westbrook might actually be superior to the admirable Rajon Rondo, it's not fair to judge them. Not yet. It's been underplayed how downright hellacious their recent schedule has been. They played the defending champs (Dallas), the two teams I believe will meet in the Finals (Chicago, Oklahoma City), and twice dealt with a young and deep Indiana team built to give and older opponent fits. You have like to have seen them win a game or two or three, but you should be able to understand why they didn't.
If ever a game against the perpetually irrelevant Toronto Raptors is a must-win, that game is tonight. The Celtics began a stretch of eight games tonight in which their six opponents (they play Orlando and Cleveland twice) have a combined record of 34-44. Taking the Magic (10-3) and the Pacers (9-3, and sheesh, just how many times do they have to play these guys?) out of the equation, that's a combined 18-38 record for four of those opponents. They have a chance to get this right, starting tonight. And for all of the lumps they've taken, they're just a game and a half back of the overhyped Knicks for second in the division.
Yes, they're 4-8. They look old -- are old -- and it's been ugly. Time isn't on their side.
But from us, they deserve just a little bit more.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.