Get Over that Patriots Loss with a Little Celtics and Bruins Love
In order to enjoy watching the Celtics and Bruins after a Patriots playoff run, it’s necessary to come to grips with this one reality: It’s not going to be the same. The games aren’t as important and the atmosphere inside many arenas is lacking—as evidenced by the fact that the Celtics played in front of a half-empty Verizon Center in Washington Monday night due to last weekend’s blizzard.
But unless we’re prepared to spend the next several months debating whether Bill Belichick should’ve taken the points instead of going for it twice on fourth down in the AFC Championship, it’s time to move on. And fortunately, the Celtics and Bruins are getting hot at the right time.
After an early season funk, the Bruins have won five of their last six games and find themselves positioned as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bs pulled off an impressive victory in Philadelphia against the Flyers Monday, with the struggling Brett Connolly netting the game-winning goal.
Meanwhile, 133 miles to the south, the Celtics dismantled the Wizards in the nation’s capital, winning 116-91. It was their sixth victory in their last eight contests, pushing them to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference as well.
Given the struggles the Celtics and Bruins have endured at times, it was uncertain whether they were going to give us much to watch during the doldrums of winter. But it’s clear both teams are worth investing in, even if their seasons are unlikely to end in a championship pursuit. Here’s a brief primer, for anyone just tuning in.
So, which team is better?
The Bruins have a better chance to make a deep postseason run than the Celtics, almost solely due to the climate of the NHL versus the NBA. In hockey, low-seeded playoff teams regularly pull off upsets, especially if they have an elite goaltender. Tuukka Rask stole the game for the Bruins Monday night, stopping 34 shots and standing strong on four consecutive Flyers power plays in the second period.
It’s been a trying year at times for Rask, largely due to the Bruins’ suspect defense. But that’s what happens when you hastily trade Dougie Hamilton, a talented 22-year-old former first round pick, for draft picks.
Given the Bruins’ struggles on the blue line, they’ve had to step away from Claude Julien’s traditionally conservative system and play a more up-tempo style of game. As a result, they’re second in the Eastern Conference in goals scored.
Though just making the playoffs was an achievement for the Celtics last year, they’ll have to actually win a series for this season to be considered a success. They’ve shown glimpses of brilliance at times, ranking third among East teams in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index and second overall in defensive rating. The Celtics are also just one game behind the Bulls—who they beat Friday night—for the fourth seed in the East. They’d receive home court advantage in the first-round of the playoffs if they could pull that off.
Both teams have big decisions to make at the trade deadline
On the surface, the Bruins’ plan at the deadline next month should be simple: Acquire a top four defenseman to shore up the team for the playoffs. But Louii Eriksson’s pending free agency makes it more difficult than that.
Eriksson, who was the centerpiece of the Tyler Seguin trade three years ago, is having his best season since the 2008-09 campaign. With 15 goals and 24 assists, he’s well on pace to surpass last year’s total of 47 points.
The cost to retain Eriksson this offseason should be high; WEEI’s DJ Bean reports he’s seeking a new deal between $5 and $6 million. With limited cap space, that price may be too rich for the Bruins to pay. If that’s the case, despite the Bruins’ recent winning streak, it makes more sense to trade Eriksson now rather than let him go for nothing in the summer.
Last year at the deadline, the Celtics greatly improved themselves by trading for point guard Isaiah Thomas. With a litany of first-round picks, including the moribund Brooklyn Nets’ selections for the next three years, the Cs have the chips to make a big splash next month. But it’s equally likely they could trade off veteran parts in order to accumulate more assets for the future. With this season unlikely to end with a deep playoff run, Danny Ainge has to look at the long-term.
Everyone hates Brad Marchand
Marchand is back to being a pest, which is a boon for the Bruins and pain for every other team. Last month, Vancouver Canucks forward Brandon Prust said getting fined $5,000 for spearing Marchand in the groin was “money well spent.”
In November, after Julien expressed frustration at Marchand getting flagged for goaltender interference when he collided with Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist during a game, New York coach Alain Vigneault said he wouldn’t want to have Marchand as a son.
Respect the man bun
Dirk Nowitzki-look alike Kelly Olynyk is enjoying a breakout season for the Celtics, averaging 10.1 points per game and hitting 44 percent of his three-pointers.
Kelly Olynyk with the follow up slam! pic.twitter.com/wrfaLjxySu
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 24, 2015
He also has arguably the strongest man bun game in sports, which is just awesome.
— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) January 25, 2016
If that doesn’t get you excited, you’re dead inside. Set aside your Pats rage and embrace the man bun.