Let’s salute Celtics, Bruins while we can … before fans’ playoff angst takes over

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Let’s salute Celtics, Bruins while we can … before fans’ playoff angst takes over

BOSTON — We’re talking Celtics and Bruins today. And in adherence to the pecking order of regular-season winning percentage, we’ll begin on the parquet.

With only an occasional hiccup and an injury report that didn’t extend much more than one double-spaced page, the Celtics roared through the regular season with a best-in-show 64-18 record. Turns out Celtics president of basketball relations Brad Stevens is a chemistry whiz, given how he brought in Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday and merged them with superstars in residence Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. And then there’s Al Horford and new-look Derrick White, along with a bench that’s reminiscent of Doc Rivers being able to summon James Posey, Eddie House, Leon Powe, et al., during the 2007-08 championship run. (Fun Fact No. 1: The last time the Celtics had the best regular-season record in the NBA was 2007-08. Which means …)

The Bruins had the best record in their league last year, and we all know how that turned out. The B’s were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round by the Florida Panthers, which was a big surprise, after which came the retirement announcements of longtime centermen Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, which weren’t much of a surprise given that both men are so old they remember when the Red Sox used to pay for talent. If this was supposed to be a rebuilding season for the Bruins, or a bridge year, or the beginning of an overhaul (the terminology is forever changing), the players didn’t get the Slack message.

The B’s finished the regular season 47-20-15 record (109 points), which isn’t exactly Presidents’ Trophy material. But since many fans regard the Presidents’ Trophy as a death pit, no biggie. What matters is that the 2023-24 Bruins, while hardly old-timey, Big, Bad Bruin-type marauders, still won a lot of games.

Which brings us to Fun Fact No. 2: Centers Charlie  Coyle (25 goals and 35 assists) and Pavel Zacha (21 goals, 38 points) have combined to replicate, even surpass, the combined offensive production of Bergeron and Krejci from last year. We could go deeper into the weeds in terms of faceoffs won (edge to the old guys, especially to Bergeron, of course) and locker room presence/leadership, but Fun Facts aren’t supposed to be court cases. They’re supposed to be fun.

We’ve arrived at playoff time for the Bruins and Celtics.  And with it comes an annual reminder to ourselves: Trying to predict whether either team makes a deep playoff run is going to require more than an eye for breaking down rosters, distinguishing good matchups from bad matchups and judging the abilities of Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla and/or the Bruins’ Jim Montgomery to pull the proper levers at crunch time.

But while all of these intangibles are important, it also helps to have a deft touch at throwing darts at the wall.

As a fer-instance, anyone who picked the 1990-91 Minnesota North Stars (27-39-14) to make it to the Stanley Cup final arrived at that forecast because of a proficiency at dart throwing. Yes, goaltender Jon Casey was coming off a fine regular season, no doubt inspiring some to forecast he’d be capable of standing on his head during the Cup tourney, which he did, but c’mon: To pick the North Stars to go deep that year was to throw darts.

With that longish preamble in place, let’s get to Playoff Prediction Time. Then again, let’s not. No attempts will be made here to forecast the deepness of the runs for the Celtics and Bruins, other than to make one bold statement: Each team will lose at least one game in the postseason.

Statement of the obvious, right? Of course. But I’m making a point here. The Bruins will lose a playoff game, possibly as soon as Saturday, and the Celtics will lose a playoff game, possibly as soon as Sunday, and you know what that’ll mean: The complaining will be thunderous. When the Bruins lose, be it this weekend or sometime down the road, it’ll most likely be because of goaltending, or something Montgomery said or did.  When the Celtics lose, be it this weekend or sometime down the road, it’ll most likely be because of a 3-point attempt gone bad, or something Mazzulla said or did.

Complaining isn’t a bad thing. The Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins have combined to win 12 championships this century, and with all those rolling rallies of yesteryear after things went right … come all those rolling eyes of today when things go wrong. When the teams lose, the fans holler. In a pro sports market with lofty annual expectations, fighting the good fight is no longer acceptable.

But that’s all a little later on. For now, the Celtics and Bruins should be saluted for not only putting the failures of last year behind them, but also for moving on in a way that’s been exciting, riveting even.



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Consider the kind of winter that Boston sports fans had to endure. The Red Sox brought in former big-league pitcher Craig Breslow to be their chief baseball officer, thus inspiring co-owner Tom Werner to announce the club was poised to go “full throttle” in 2024. Nothing of the sort happened in terms of wow-ish player acquisitions, after which a fast-pivoting Werner explained that going “full throttle” meant that the coaches would hit more pregame grounders during spring training as part of a master plan to improve the defense, which was lousy last year and has been lousier this season.

And then we have the Patriots, who inspired a winter-into-spring discussion about the demise of the so-called “Patriot Way,” the exodus of Bill Belichick and the rolling out of the first of 62,783 mock drafts that have revealed to us which can’t-miss quarterback will be coming to New England in the upcoming draft. And let’s not forget “The Dynasty” miniseries with a major sermon: When things started to go wrong for the Patriots, it was Belichick’s fault, all of it. I’m guessing the only reason the series wasn’t titled “Kill Bill” is because Quentin Tarantino has already used it.

And yet, with all this going on, the Bruins and Celtics were Sports Pepto Bismol. When the Red Sox and Patriots made you sick to your stomach, the Celtics and Bruins made you feel a little better.

And so congrats, Celtics. Congrats, Bruins. Bring on the playoffs, and all the angst and finger-pointing that’ll commence as soon as an L has been posted.

(Photo of Jayson Tatum driving against Miami’s Caleb Martin during the regular season: Megan Briggs / Getty Images)