Every rebuilding team needs that signature win that puts the rest of the league on alert.
In the midst of Brad Stevens tenure with the Boston Celtics, that was the one thing the Celtics had been missing.
Until Friday night.
A visit to Cleveland to take on LeBron James and the Eastern Conference-leading Cavaliers provided the Celtics a chance to make a statement, and boy did they ever.
Avery Bradley’s 3-pointer at the buzzer sent New England into a frenzy and sent LeBron sulking into the locker room with a rare home defeat.
Look, I know this isn’t the Eastern Conference Finals. But beating the Cavs in their building will go a long way in the Celtics’ quest for Banner 18. That may not be this season, but the Celtics have proved that they can play with the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Entering Sunday’s home game against old friend Rajon Rondo and the Sacramento Kings, the C’s sat 30-22, good for 4th place in the East. Boston was also only four games back of the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors, with the All-Star break looming.
Stevens is extremely underrated as a head coach. He came to Boston after taking Butler University to back to back NCAA championship games, and got a group of misfits to the postseason last year. That was the first step.
The next step is winning a playoff series or two, which the Celtics are more than capable of doing. General manager Danny Ainge has the flexibility and assets to make a big trade. Remember, Boston has lowly Brooklyn’s first-round draft pick this summer, so the more the Nets lose, the better of the Celtics will be.
Beating the Cavs in Cleveland sent a message to the rest of the East that nobody will want to play the Celtics come April. Celtics fans can only wonder how good this team could be under Stevens with a difference maker.
STUDENT ATTENDANCE DISAPPOINTING
Longtime University of Miami and Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson was famous for saying “You are what your record says you are.”
Even though the University of Maine men’s hockey team’s record entering this weekend’s series with Providence College was 7-15-6, I expected the Alfond Arena balcony to be full and rocking both nights. After all, the defending national champions were in town and Maine was coming off an impressive road sweep of UMass.
On Saturday night, as the teams came out for warmups, the balcony was barely half-full. It filled in to some degree as the game started, but I expected a nice, long line when I arrived at the Alfond shortly before 6:00.
Look, I understand that college students, especially those with challenging majors, have a busy life. I understand that Maine has struggled the last few years. But if there’s one thing recruits love, it’s a full, rowdy Alfond. You always have to assume a future Black Bear is in the building.
A hockey game is a mere 2 and a half hours out of your life, and most students have to simply walk across campus. Just like they do to attend classes and see friends. Those who came to the game on Saturday – a 4-2 Friars win to finish off a sweep – cheered loudly and proudly, and Maine played hard both nights despite being swept. Providence is just more talented and more experienced, and the Black Bears are still a few players away.
Take a break from your studies and enjoy a game. Parties can wait until a game ends also. In my day, you didn’t want to be that guy who showed up at a party before 10:00. Hopefully, the Maine-Iaks will be out in full force for Senior Weekend against Merrimack in two weeks.
TOURNEY TIME APPROACHES
That magical week every high school basketball fan in Maine looks forward to is just a few days away.
Tournament Week commences on Tuesday with preliminary-round games, while quarterfinals start with Class AA play in Augusta on Wednesday while the Northern Maine Class B quarterfinals kick off action at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on Friday.
This winter will mark my 11th year covering the tournament. Every year brings something different, and the new five-class format will add some new spice to the tournament this year.
Tournament week is always special for journalists, players and coaches alike. We’re spoiled in the context that we get paid to watch these outstanding games.
What kind of memories will be created this year? Well, we’ll have to wait and see, but if you happen to be at the Cross Center, come down and say hi! I’m always game for story ideas!