After yet another awful home loss to the Rockets the other night, I began thinking about what a colossal disappointment this season's been. I thought this year's Celtics could get 70 wins, didn't think they'd dip too far below 68, and definitely didn't think they'd be struggling to secure 50 wins with just 7 games to go.
But that's where they stand right now. Instead of delving into all the specifics of what's made this season so frustrating, I'd like to take a refreshing approach on how things can be rectified moving forward. Two teams the Celtics can look to for inspiration are the 1995 Rockets and the 2006 Heat.
The '95 Rockets were the defending champions but struggling mightily when they made a blockbuster midseason trade acquiring Clyde Drexler for Otis Thorpe. Despite finishing at just 47-35 and being the 6th seed out west, the Rockets got their act together in time for the playoffs. In hindsight their hardest 2 series were the 1st and 2nd rounds. In round 1 they trailed the Jazz 2-1 in the best of 5, won game 4 on their homecourt and stole a Game 5 win in Utah to win the series. The next round was even more impressive as they fell behind Phoenix 3-1 and proceeded to win the next three, including Games 5 and 7 on the Suns' home court. They'd beat the Spurs in 6 in the conference finals and swept the Magic for the championship, mostly behind the star power of Hakeem Olajuwon, the best player in the league that season.
The '06 Heat were the 2nd seed in the East that year but only finished at 52-30. Going into the playoffs that year, they had the 5th best odds according to the folks in Las Vegas to win it all (behind Detroit, San Antonio, Dallas and Phoenix). They shared a lot of similarities with this year's Celtics squad: aging veterans (Mourning, Payton) trying to win a title. They climbed on the back of their superstar Dwyane Wade and upended Detroit and Dallas, both favorites, to win it all.
When the NBA playoffs began those seasons, I didn't expect the Rockets or Heat to win the title. Frankly if you look back in the history of the NBA playoffs since they expanded to 16 teams with no byes in 1984, only 2 teams who weren't the number 1 or 2 seed won it all (the 95 Rockets and the 04 Pistons, who were actually the 3rd seed even though they had a better record than the 2 seed Atlantic Division winning Nets). Furthermore Olajuwon and Wade stepped their games up to an other-worldly level and lead their teams to the title. The Celtics will obviously need someone to step into that role (Rondo becoming Isiah Thomas or Pierce becoming the Paul Pierce of old are my 2 candidates).
Based on those 2 facts, history's not on the Celtics' side this year. But they don't have to go back too far to see a couple of teams who didn't have that great a regular season, but were able to turn it on for the playoffs. Here's hoping 2010 can become the next year where teams recall a team that was so-so in the regular season, become NBA champs.