It seems impossible, especially in light of what’s been happening over the past couple of days, but not since 1988 have the Bruins and Celtics advanced to the third round of the playoffs in the same springtime.
Look it up. In the spring of ’88, the Celtics made it to the Eastern Conference finals before losing to Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons in six games. The Bruins made it to the Stanley Cup Final, at which time they were swept in four straight by Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers. Since then, there have been good years and bad years for the two teams but never a good year in the same year.
But while it’s still very Early — especially for the Bruins, who are still in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs — the events of Sunday and Monday have made it OK to at least dream about the two teams keeping everyone on the edge well into June.
Lordy, what a couple of days it’s been. Consider that Sunday at TD Garden it was the Bruins submitting an effort of gutty brilliance in their opening-round, series-tying 5-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. And at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum on Monday night, it was the Celtics roaring back in the fourth quarter and emerging with a second-round, series-tying 116-108 victory over the defending NBA champion Bucks.
Best of all, the Bruins and Celtics both produced a grizzled veteran who stepped forward and provided a snapshot moment that has the potential to beed for a long, long time if these teams go a long, long way in the postseason.
No need to keep you in suspense here, because if you watched, you know. It was Patrice Bergeron for the Bruins, whom we’ll get to in a moment, and, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, it was Al Horford for the Celtics. And if yeses don’t do it for you, we’ll go with Celtics guard Marcus Smart’s assessment of what Horford’s performance meant to the Celtics on Monday night: “So it’s a big, big, big, big, big — and I mean this — big key, Al being with us, and he makes it that much better.”
It wasn’t just that Horford, who turns 36 next month, turned in one of the finest postseason games of his career. AARP Al established a career postseason best with 30 points, 16 coming in the fourth quarter. But perhaps just as important, perhaps even more Important if one takes momentum and team-building into account, was a pair of collisions Horford had with Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Let’s, in the third quarter, Antetokounmpo picked up a tech when he growled something at Horford after a dunk, prompting the Celtic veteran to shake his head as though filing away the information for future use. In the fourth quarter, Horford drove to the basket and delivered a dunk of his own, after which he delivered a left forearm that sent Antetokounmpo crashing to the floor.
What did Antetokounmpo say to Horford that lit him up?
“I don’t know what he said to me,” Horford said, “but the way he was looking at me and the way he was going about it really didn’t sit well with me. … At that point, I think something switched with me in the game.”
It makes no difference what the Bucks star said, just as it makes no difference if Horford’s elbowing of Antetokounmpo was intentional or oops. What matters is that these Horford-Antetokounmpo encounters are now the signature moments of the series.
And Horford, in particular, gave his Celtics teammates what Bergeron, who turns 37 in July, gave his teammates Sunday when he tried to finish a shift after a high stick from the Hurricanes’ Sebastian Aho resulted in a stream of blood oozing from the area around Pension Patrice’s right eye.
These things matter.
“We love Al,” Smart said. “He’s the best vet we’ve ever had, the best vet I’ve ever had. … We very much needed him, and he came through big for us and helped us secure this win tonight.”
And here’s veteran Bruin Brad Marchand on Sunday, talking about Bergeron’s eye injury: “That’s the least of what Bergie’s played through. He’s played with a hole in his lung and a broken rib. There’s not a whole lot that’s going to keep him down.”
Decorum demands that we point out, again, that the Bruins are still in the first round. The Celtics are in the second round. But the Bruins’ victory Sunday, followed by the Celtics’ victory Monday, is merely the beginning of what may well be a nonstop whirl of crazy postseason for the rest of the week. Check it out:
• Tuesday night: Bruins at Hurricanes, Game 5
• Wednesday night: Bucks at Celtics, Game 5
• Thursday night: Hurricanes at Bruins, Game 6
• Friday night: Celtics at Bucks, Game 6
• Saturday: Bruins at Hurricanes, Game 7 (if necessary)
• Sunday: Bucks at Celtics, Game 7 (if necessary)
Bruins. Celtics. Bruins. Celtics. Bruins. Celtics.
If the teams are still alive a week from now, there’s every chance they’ll be playing Garden dates on the same day, a matinee followed by a night game. If so, here’s hoping the Bruins and Celtics get Al Horford and Patrice Bergeron together for a photo op as they pass each other in the hallway. They’re a couple of old guys, sure, but they symbolize why the Celtics and Bruins are still selling tickets as we move to the middle of May.
(Photo of Al Horford after he dunked on Giannis Antetokounmpo: Morry Gash / Associated Press)