Huddle Up: No spring in B’s and C’s step

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Oh, if only we knew in November what we know now.

Perhaps we would have warned Tiger to get rid of his cell phone and lock up Elin’s golf clubs. No doubt someone would have told Theo Epstein that Adrian Beltre would not turn out to be Brooks Robinson reincarnated (Lost a ground ball in the lights? Really?).

Personally, I would have liked some warning about the Bruins and Celtics.

Can you believe that it was only six months ago that we were all excited about the Bruins’ and the Celtics’ prospects in the playoffs? It was almost a given that both teams would at least be among the favorites entering their respective postseasons, and it didn’t seem like much of a leap to envision Causeway Street in June being overrun by drunken revelers and mounted police and Boston bursting from the influx of two rolling rallies taking place within a few days.

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After listless, injury-scarred regular seasons, the B’s and C’s aren’t even favored in some circles to get out of the first round, and there is so little excitement for the posseason this weekend that you’re more likely to hear Boston fans discussing what the Red Sox should do with Big Papi or who the Patriots should draft in the first round than any hockey or basketball discussion.

Some would cite the collective disinterest as a sign that we New Englanders were spoiled by a decade of remarkable success. It would be disingenuous to suggest six championships in eight years didn’t make a fan base that began the millennium championship-starved at least a little jaded.

But the Bruins and Celtics came by their fan apathy the hard way. They earned it.

When they were challenged, they backed down. When they weren’t coasting, they were clueless. When it looked like they were ready to turn the corner, they’d lose four in a row. Just when it seemed they’d hit rock bottom, they’d reach a new low. And they weren’t very much fun to watch even when they were winning.

Back in November, it looked like both teams would be nothing but fun. The Celtics were not only whole again, they were deep and talking like they were still hungry for another championship.

The Bruins were coming off the second-best record in hockey with a young nucleus, a Vezina-winning goalie with a promising young backup. They traded away their top goal-scorer, Phil Kessel, so a bit of a regression this year would have been understandable, if not expected.

The offense hasn’t just suffered, it’s become anemic. Injuries have played a big part in that all season, and the loss of Marc Savard was the worst blow of all. Now, after peppering Ryan Miller with shots in Game 1 and getting a couple of lucky bounces of the puck in Game 2, the Bruins have shown they can stand toe-to-toe with the Buffalo Sabres (especially if Thomas Vanek is out for the rest of the series).  One has to at least remain skeptical about their chances of keeping it up beyond Round 1, even if Michael Ryder has risen from the dead.

Just as the Bruins came into the season with a couple of vital cogs, David Krejci and Marco Sturm, recovering from surgery, the Celtics had some important players limp into the season. Kevin Garnett’s recovery from knee surgery started out as the biggest concern, yet what would tell the story of the season as much as Garnett’s knee was Glen Davis’ thumb.

Davis broke his thumb in an off-court altercation before the season, a stupid, selfish act that foreshadowed a season of stupidity and selfishness. Rasheed Wallace picked up the torch from Davis and got into countless verbal altercations, unable to control his temper and his mouth to the point of showing up his coach on national television as his team was on the verge of an epic collapse against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Despite Davis’ absence and Garnett’s limitations, the Celtics started the season 23-8 and looked like a lock for a top two seed. But they have been a .500 team since Christmas, disjointed at the offensive end, lazy at the defensive end and, with the exception of the dynamic Rajon Rondo, utterly unwatchable. 

So after mailing in the regular season, the C’s have convinced absolutely no one that they will turn it on for the playoffs. And it’s never a good sign when the coach starts making noises like he can’t wait to hit the golf course.

Both teams will likely be hitting the links before Memorial Day, and all their fans will be left with is an utterly miserable 2009-10 season that virtually rivals the playoff-less campaigns of a decade ago, when they were a combined 21 games below .500.

Bruins’ fans will at least be able to take some comfort in the fact that the future holds some promise. Much of the core of the team is still young. Tuukka Rask is only going to get better. And with the No. 2 pick in the draft, they can take a big step in addressing their offensive deficiencies.

The Celtics? Well, not only do they have little maneuverability in what will probably be one of the richest off-seasons ever, but they’ve got two more years of Wallace and Garnett calcifying under weighty contracts and at least one more year of Paul Pierce’s inevitable decline to manage. It’s like 1992 all over again for C’s fans.

I used to look forward to April, a month featuring my birthday, the start of spring, baseball season and the NBA and NHL playoffs.

I just turned 40, it snowed yesterday, the Red Sox are frighteningly mediocre so far and the Celtics and Bruins have begun their death marches.

Oh, if I knew in November what I know now, I wouldn’t have been so eager for April to get here. I would have done everything I could have to avoid it. Perhaps even booked a trip to Europe.

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