The Boston Red Sox, on paper, are younger and more talented than the Boston Celtics. Why is it that the Red Sox are stuck in reverse over the last 60 games (22-39 record)? Meanwhile, the Celtics are rolling along (44-29 this season, including playoffs), playing some of their best basketball late in the season, a time when everyone thought they’d be breaking down.
The Red Sox have high-priced talented players who should be in the prime of their careers: Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Daisuke Matsuzaka, just to name a few.
The Celtics are perceived to be old. Their better days were supposed to be behind them. The compressed schedule, due to the lockout which wiped out a month of the season, was supposed to punish the old-timers as the calendar flipped to the final months of April and May.
Yet the Celtics appear poised to make a run at the NBA Finals while the Red Sox appear poised to, well, make a run at whatever they were doing last October.
So what’s the difference? Why do Boston fans bleed green for the Celtics, while bleeding a watered-down pink for the Red Sox?
Basically, it comes down to passion. No, not the passion of the fans, but the passion of the athletes themselves, as well as their front offices.
With the Red Sox, you have Josh Beckett who looks forward to his days off (18, if you didn’t know… but Josh does). With the Celtics, you have players looking forward to their game days. Look at Rondo’s post-game interview with TNT’s David Aldridge after Game 1 of the Celtics-76ers series. Look at the determination and defiance in Rondo’s eyes when Aldridge asks him if it will be difficult for the older Celtics to bounce back when they have to play every other day.
“It may not be,” Rondo cut off Aldridge. “Look at us. We’ll be fine,” he concluded as he walked off, ending the interview.
In contrast, you have Josh Beckett unable to make his scheduled start last week, but he was able to make his scheduled tee time.
The Celtics play with emotion on the court. You have Kevin Garnett spitting venom every second he is on the court. In contrast, you have Adrian Gonzalez reluctant to slide into second base on a close tag play on a double off the wall. A few pitches later, he gets picked off second base by the catcher.
The Celtics have leaders in the locker room. They have players like Paul Pierce and K.G. who keep the others in line. They won’t hesitate to call out any one who is not seen putting out full effort on the court. The Red Sox have a perceived leader in Dustin Pedroia. When new manager Bobby Valentine questioned Kevin Youkilis’ dedication earlier this year, Pedroia scolded the new manager through the media by saying that that is not the way things are done here. Oh really? Maybe that is why the team has been in a tailspin for the last nine months.
Sure, the Red Sox can use injuries as an excuse. And why wouldn’t they? They love excuses. Ellsbury, Matsuzaka, Youkilis, Andrew Bailey, Crawford are all key pieces of the puzzle. But the Celtics have had more than their fair share of injuries. When both their top centers were lost for the season with injuries, the lanky Garnett moved over from power forward to center, a position he’s never liked playing. Despite banging with players much bigger and stronger than himself, Garnett played some of the basketball of his Celtics’ career the last two months of the season.
In contrast, when closer Andrew Bailey went down, the obvious choice to replace him was Daniel Bard. Bard had been Jonathan Papelbon’s apprentice for the last three years. But Bard wanted to be a starting pitcher, and the Red Sox promised him an opportunity. In 2007, they offered Papelbon the same opportunity to start, but when it became apparent that the bullpen was in disarray that season, Papelbon stood up and said, ‘I will be the closer of this team. That is where this team needs me.’ Bard’s refusal to even offer to return to solidify the bullpen has resulted in an adjustment phase as roles continue to be determined.
The Celtics also have a coach which the team respects. Doc Rivers can go to Garnett and say, “I need you to play center for me,” and Garnett replies, “Whatever you need, coach.” Meanwhile in a recent 17-inning loss, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine lamented that he had to use outfielder Darnell McDonald because no starting pitcher, presumably Beckett, “volunteered” to give him an inning or two.
The Celtics have what the Red Sox do not—heart. The Celtics are winners. They know what it takes to win. They know it requires hard work and everyone working together. The Celtics play for the love of the game— for the love of winning.