Celtics, Bruins stir past glories

Posted May 14, 2009, at 11:24 p.m.

The last week of watching the Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins simultaneously seeking to survive and advance through the NBA and NHL playoffs has served to restore the ordinary fan in someone who routinely watches sporting events in order merely to share those stories with others.

Of course, the initial feeling of this overdose of playoff madness has been one of being shortchanged — the result of the teams playing on the same nights at basically the same times, meaning neither team can be watched to the fullest extent, only that provided by the remote control.

Beyond that is the opportunity to follow two “home” teams from two vastly different perspectives.

For the Celtics are favorite sons in this corner, from the days of Russell, Jones and Havlicek through to Bird, McHale and Parish and now to this year’s postseason troika of Pierce, Allen and Rondo.

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Through the championships of the 1980s and the twin tragedies of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis, the emotional attachment with this team has been longstanding, to the point that trips to the Boston Garden old and new were frequent even when Antoine Walker was the captain and Banner 17 was just a dream.

Now the tickets are much harder to come by, as the bandwagon has filled rather quickly. But that’s OK, a fair tradeoff for the chance to see this team renew its stature among the premier franchises in pro sports history.

The Celtics may not add to that legacy this year, but the quest has been noble.

To watch the Celtics this season is to relive watching the Patriots refuse to give up without Tom Brady, for Kevin Garnett’s bum knee certainly minimizes their chances to earn a second straight title.

Yet the effort they have exhibited in eliminating Chicago and now battling Orlando for a berth in the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals has been truly professional.

They have lost when perhaps they should have won, dropping the first game of each series at home, yet they have found ways to pull out wins from the edge of defeat.

Like many other New Englanders, the allegiance to the Bruins is a much newer habit.

Truth be told, before the postseason began I’d have been hard-pressed to name more than a few of the players — Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Phil Kessell and Milan Lucic come to mind.

Then again, casual sports fans had little reason to closely follow a franchise that hadn’t won a first-round playoff series in more than a decade and done little else than define hockey mediocrity for the last 35 years.

But this year is different. They drew us in by dominating the hated Montreal Canadiens, and they’ve spent the last fortnight battling a team from the land of NASCAR that used to be the Hartford Whalers.

But the Bruins have lost when perhaps they should have won, and won Games 5 and 6 of their series with the Carolina Hurricanes when it was win or else, leaving Thursday night’s winner-take-all final game of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series as must-see TV.

And win or lose, the Bruins’ journey through the highs and lows of playoff hockey has been a breath of fresh air, both to fans from the days of Orr and Esposito and those more recently attracted to the sport.

By the time you read this, the Bruins may be eliminated, and the Celtics may be on the brink.

But I suspect both won’t be the case. Time to get more batteries for the remote.

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