Celtics Similarities: 2010 Vs. 1988

Courtesy of North Station Sports

Injuries and age have slowed the new "Big Three".

As disappointing as the Celtics loss was on Thursday night, I found it slightly encouraging to hear the captain not excepting any reasons as an excuse for lack of energy. The Boston Globe’s Gary Dzen (guest on this week’s Celtics Late Night Show) would bring reference to the Celtics lack of fire power on the second night of back to backs by quoting Pierce as saying,

“Every team in the NBA has to do it,” said Celtics captain Paul Pierce. “We’re conditioned to play as many games as they put on the schedule, so I don’t know if that’s a factor or not…We feel like we’re at home, we should be a better team at home than what we’ve been playing as of late.”

Playing on national television and on the second night of back to backs (four games in five nights), the Celtics looked old, tired and defeated at tip off. The young and athletic Bulls had charged through the TD Garden tunnel, onto the parquet floor and over the vulnerable Celtics. Described as “old and experienced” by the TNT intro to the telecast, the 2009-10 Celtics continue bare resemblance to the late 80’s, early 90’s team led by the aging Big Three of that era.

Those, late-era, Larry Bird led team’s were very dangerous but never had the youth and health needed to compete with the emerging Bulls, Pistons and Hawks of that era.  Those youthful team’s gave Bird, Parish, McHale, Ainge and DJ fits that they were not accustomed to. The ‘88 team (57-25) would drop regular season games to up and coming team’s, such as the Hawks, Bulls, Nuggets, Knicks and Cavs. By this time in January, the ‘88 team had already dropped two games to the Hawks, Cavs, Pistons and Bucks. They had compiled a three game losing streak, something that had not been done by a Bird led team since the early 80’s.

In 1988, the "Big Three" was showing some wear and tear.

The 1988 team would post their eleventh loss of the season by January 16th. Though the Celtics of that era epitomized Celtics Mystique by protecting the parquet floor (three losses at home through January), they were atrocious on the road, displaying a lack of focus similar to 2010’s team’s lack of focus at home.

Though, in 1988, Larry Bird would notch career high’s in offensive stats, it had become visibly apparent that the team had run out of gas and had to be carried on Bird’s back throughout the season. Unfortunately we all remember the affects of carrying his teammates had on Bird’s back.

The 1988 team had been the ‘84, ‘85, ‘86, ‘87 versions of the team, beat down by injuries and burnt out from four straight seasons of hard fought battles to get the finals. Back then, I remember thinking “this team lacks the fire of the past team’s.” How can the exact same line-up look so much older in one season?

Though today’s version of the team has only reached the finals once and won one title, they draw eery similarities to the late era Bird team’s. Bird had provided excitement in 1988 but was ultimately burned out by the eastern conference finals, losing to the Pistons in six games. In 1989, Larry Bird would only play six games and, when returning a season later, never displayed the lethal shooting that had made him famous.

1988 kicked off the theme that “we, as fans, might be watching the Celtics of that era compete for the last time.” In the seasons that followed, broadcasters would refer to the Celtics as “old legs” and “veteran savvy and experience”.

Sound familiar?

Nick Gelso covers the Boston Celtics and NBA for Boston Sports Then and Now. You can check out more of his great work on his blog: North Station Sports.

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