As tough as the Celtics' Christmas Day loss to the Orlando Magic was to take, the boys in green are still sitting atop the Eastern Conference at 23-5, with four fewer losses than the second place Miami Heat. The Magic may have stopped their 14-game winning streak, but as the Celtics' website puts it: "one streak's end means another streak's beginning."
Not so fast.
You see, we Celtics fans have been here before these last couple of years. The team is riding high, playing some of the best basketball Boston has seen, and then run into Christmas like a wall of bricks.
It was most apparent last year. The team had won 14 of their last 15 games, with a one-point loss to Philadelphia the only blemish on their record since November 20. The Celtics even managed to win the Christmas day matchup, once again against the Magic, in convincing fashion. In fact, the win was made all the more convincing by the fact that Paul Pierce had just had his knee drained, and was missing the first of five games.
The Celtics then dropped their next three, went 6-8 in January, and basically played .500 ball the rest of the season.
Christmas 2009 Record: 23-5
Next 10 Games: 4-6
The 2008 slump didn't last as long, but was still quite apparent. A big loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas snapped a 19-game winning streak-it was only the Celtics' third loss on the season-and started a 2-7 slide that left them trailing both the Magic and Cavaliers.
Christmas 2008 Record: 27-3
Next 10 Games: 4-6
This is not to say the Celtics are about to go on another losing streak, or that they're even in a position to do so. There's some noticeable differences between those teams and this team. This team has a healthier Garnett and Pierce than 2009, and a much more impressive Rondo than 2008. It is not a team that's been riding high on full strength, but one that's taken care of business despite being down between three and five legitimate contributors for most of the year. The O'Neals and Rondo are just now getting back, fairly well rested, and ready to try and kick this habit of post-Christmas troubles.
But if they are about to lose to the Pacers and the Pistons of the world, and start a long downhill trip to the middle seeds of the Eastern Conference, then Celtics fans just have to remember what happened last year. That .500 finish to the season was pretty well forgotten once the team knocked the Cavaliers and Magic out of the playoffs. As one of the members of the group calling for Ray Allen trades come last year's deadline, I have learned my lesson about regular season results.
Hopefully, the Celtics will keep on rolling as usual, and just pick up steam with the return of their injured players. But if they don't, and if Christmas spells the start of another surprising slump, then it's not the end of the world.