Christmas With The Boston Celtics
A Merry Christmas to readers from BST&N! Although if we’re looking at it from the perspective of our lives as Celtics fans, Christmas has meant a lump of coal lately. In the Doc Rivers’ era, the Celts are 1-3, as part of the marquee Christmas package, including last year’s two-point loss to the Knicks in Madison Square Garden to open the lockout-shortened season.
Nor are holiday losses anything new in Celtic tradition. Boston is 11-17 in games on December 25. I’m completely for this whole spirit of giving idea, although I don’t know that it was meant to apply to C’s basketball games.
But in going through the Boston’s 28 Christmas Day games, there’s one stunning fact that stands out and lets the team off the hook—not one of these games has been at home! None! While recent years have seen trips to places like Orlando and Los Angeles that I’m sure no one associated with the Celtics would complain about in December, and I suppose you can argue that New York City on the holiday has a certain festivity to it, consider some of the other places Boston has played throughout the years—Philadelphia, New Jersey, Detroit, Syracuse, Rochester, Fort Wayne, Milwaukee and Minneapolis. If there’s some desire to place teams in warm-weather or touristy locales, I’m not seeing it.
I suppose in the end it doesn’t matter—you still get half your regular season games at home, so this amounts to more of a very strange historical tidbit rather than something to get annoyed about. So let’s take a brief run through the various eras of the Celts At Christmas (it kind of sounds like a holiday CD of Irish music doesn’t it?)
1948-1961: For reasons I can’t quite figure out, the league just treated the holiday like any other day on the schedule and played games. It’s not as though there were TV contracts to worry about. Boston lost its first six Christmas Day games, then finally won one in Minneapolis. 1956 saw the first innovation, as the Celts played the Philadelphia Warriors (the forerunner of today’s Golden State franchise) in Madison Square Garden. In spite of 22 points from Bob Cousy, the C’s dropped an 89-82 decision, the bottoming out point of a stretch where they lost seven of eleven, before rebounding to win the franchise’s first NBA title.
1964-1974: Christmas Day stopped being a regular part of the schedule over this stretch, and there were four years the C’s got to be home for the holiday. There was another Madison Square Garden-neutral site game in ’64 against the Pistons and this time C’s fans had reason to be merry—Havlicek went for 27 points and the victory was part of a devastating 23-1 stretch en route to another crown. Boston fared less well when they were distracted by warm weather, losing twice in Phoenix and once in Los Angeles during this stretch.
1980-2002: Now the games were few and far between and Boston only played on December 25 four times in 23 years. The 1985 game was proof positive of the Celtics’ tough luck—a team that would go 67-15 and win the NBA championship as one of the greatest teams of all time, went into Madison Square Garden and lost to the Knicks in double overtime. Larry Bird scored 23 points, but only shot 8-for-27, and the C’s as a team were colder than the weather outside, shooting just 34 percent from the floor. New York center Patrick Ewing was a rookie and he scored 32 points with 11 rebounds. Other games in this sequence included a loss to Michael Jordan’s Bulls in 1991, and a blowout defeat at New Jersey in 2002 when the league featured a rematch of the previous year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
That brings us to the modern age. The NBA upgraded its Christmas presence, building to the point of wall-to-wall games, so any perennial contender has a spot on the marquee. The Celtics have been in that class the last five years and after winning the championship in 2008, they’ve been a part of Christmas each year. Here’s a brief rundown on the not-so-pretty results…
2008: A visit to the Staples Center featured a rematch of the previous year’s Finals. This time the Celtics came up short to the Lakers. Los Angeles hit eight three-pointers, while Ray Allen struggled from behind the arc in a 92-83 loss. It ended a 19-game win streak for the C’s, and started a 2-7 stretch.
2009: Orlando won a Game 7 at the Garden the previous spring, but in this game, the Celtic defense went in lockdown mode in the second quarter, holding the Magic to eight points. The 86-78 victory capped a 14-game win streak, although Boston promptly lost three of the next four.
2010: Boston had beaten Orlando in the conference finals and had won 14 in a row coming in, but some cold shooting from the floor sent them to an 86-78 loss. Once again, the post-Christmas period didn’t go well, with three losses in the next four games.
2011: Rajon Rondo was brilliant, with 31 points and the Celtics had a dominant third quarter. But Paul Pierce didn’t play and New York rallied in the fourth quarter to win 106-104. On a year where Christmas doubled as Opening Day, the Celts lost the next two before getting on the board.
Boston comes into today’s game with Brooklyn on another December downswing, having lost their four of their last five, including a discouraging home loss to Milwaukee on Friday night. The schedule isn’t easy on the far side, with road dates against the Clippers and Warriors. With their record only 13-13, Boston has to reverse their historical Christmas pattern. But one pattern remains unchanged—they’re still on the road. Apparently no one in the NBA likes the idea of Faneuil Hall at Christmas time.