By Nate B.
The Celtics’ steadily growing list of problems over the last 7 weeks has temporarily overshadowed a disturbing season-long trend: the team’s lackadaisical play at the TD Garden.
As surprising as the Celtics’ relatively poor home court performance may seem, it’s actually a predictable part of a larger pattern of complacency among Boston area sports fans. A combination of unprecedented success for the professional sports teams as a group (except the persistently maddening Bruins), equally unprecedented ticket price inflation and the more recent economic downturn has reduced the percentage of authentic fans in the seats, and spoiled many of the real fans who can still afford to attend more than one or two games a season.
Now, with the area’s teams in the midst of a downward cycle in performance, the home crowds’ diminished hunger is robbing the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics of their home field/court advantage just when they need it the most. From the empty seats behind home plate at Fenway during the 2008 ALCS to the brutal end of the Patriots’ 32 year-old home playoff winning streak last month, signs abound that the once-feared Boston crowds have descended into complacent apathy, their passion a victim of the very success that eluded the town’s teams for so many years.
So the Celtics’ uninspired performance at home this season is just the latest example of this unfortunate but common trend. Last year the team dropped only 6 home games all year despite Kevin Garnett’s absence for nearly a third of the season. This year they’re on pace to nearly triple that number, albeit while once again battling injuries to several players in their rotation. Perhaps more disturbingly, the Celtics have developed a habit of losing games by getting outworked and outplayed in the second half, most recently and upsettingly in the games on Causeway Street the last two Sundays.
To explain the Celtics’ slippage at home, fans can certainly point to several on-court factors that no amount of crowd support could fix – the mid-season motivational issues of an accomplished veteran roster (I’m looking at you, Rasheed), Garnett’s deteriorating knee, Ray Allen’s and Paul Pierce’s aging legs, and Big Baby’s and Marquis Daniels’s fragile thumbs. But the fans’ diminished level of enthusiasm has also been apparent. While the TD Garden crowd still shows its appreciation when the Celtics put together a series of good possessions that either lengthens a modest lead or erases an imposing deficit, the fans pretty much sit on their hands for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, this season, particularly over the last 7 weeks or so, those impressive sequences of play – on both ends of the floor – have grown shorter in duration and have occurred much less frequently. As a result, the vibe at home games has often more closely resembled that of the mausoleum-like Izod Center than the roaring “jungle” in which the Celtics went a combined (including playoffs) 88-16 over the previous two seasons.
Make no mistake, these are desperate times for the Celtics and their championship aspirations that looked so promising back in November. Granted, this year’s squad can often be justifiably accused of laziness and carelessness, and they have consistently and repeatedly let us down in the biggest games of the season after teasing us with spurts of dazzling, unselfish play. But that only underlines how badly the players need the fans’ passion to spark them when their own energy –whether physical or mental – leaves something to be desired.
So I call on every fan at the Garden who actually cares deeply whether this Celtics team plays at the highest possible level to bring more passion and focus to every home game for the rest of the season, and kick the butts of the fans sitting near you into gear as well. If the players on the court clearly aren’t living up to the standard of passion that you’re setting in the stands, then hold them accountable by booing and riding them. Just let the players know that someone actually cares whether they honor those hallowed uniforms they’re wearing by playing as well as they’re capable of, or desecrate them by squandering a rare and precious chance to make a run at another championship. We know all too well how long it could be until another chance at an 18th banner comes along.