It's the best time for fun and games

When Grandmasters Lerner and Loewe glorified the joys of May in soaring song, they were paying tribute to springtime in Camelot. But they may well have had North American sport in mind as well.

From the great awakening in mid-April through busting-out time in June, it doesn’t get any better in our privileged and frothing world of fun and games. It’s when so many acts are in play and prized baubles are up for grabs in furious conflict.

In my book, nothing tops hockey’s Stanley Cup playoffs, although the NBA’s somewhat less frenzied variation likely has more adherents. In golf there’s the Masters, unique by its own insistence. In football, the college draft has become second only to Soupey among its most bloated signature events. In horse racing, the Derby heralds the Triple Crown season, quaint and historic. For purists, there’s our Marathon. Even tennis gets into the act, featuring the French Open on the clay courts of Paris that sometimes run red with combatant’s blood. Soccer has a down year, with no World Cup in the offing, but Olympics’ prelims proceed in everything from archery to volleyball while Boxing is about to present its alleged ultimate match.

Meanwhile, day in and day out, we have baseball in full swing.

Where to begin? Why not with the Celtics? So much for their flirtation with an alleged revival. In the end, it gained for them an improbable playoff berth, a little good will, and a whole extra week of action yielding two more gates for the owners. That’s pennies on the dollar, at best.

Cleveland’s swift and merciless punch-out of their pretensions was not pretty. No amount of boy-talk about how gallantly the Celts struggled against a more- formidable foe will alter that. Four straight is four straight and as rollovers go, this one actually wasn’t that close. One suspects the team now realizes that were it not for the honor of the thing, they’d probably have been better off opting for the lottery where the odds on them distinguishing themselves would certainly have been no worse than they were against the Cavs.

But that entire discussion has become tiresome. The fact remains teams should play to win and the Celts did win 15 more games this season than last. It’s a meaningful improvement. Still, they have no business regarding themselves as playoff caliber until they prove able to win more games than they lose. That’s not asking too much.

This year’s great leap forward has meaning only if it’s matched by a comparable further leap forward next season. What are the odds on that, presuming there will again be no franchise talents available on the free-agent market willing to come here and it’s been a long time since any were.  Just why great basketball players so disdain Boston, where history in the noble cause of sports racial justice was so brilliantly made just a generation ago, is an intriguing question. One suspects we would not appreciate the answer.  

In the end, the Celtics went down hard and ugly but they sure gave the Cavs something to remember them by. They may even have cost them any chance at the championship that poor Cleveland yearns for, that is if the separated shoulder Kevin Love sustained in the Game 4 donnybrook kayos or even diminishes him.

Love was quick to brand Kelly Olynyk’s actions “bush league,” further claiming that Olynyk sure seemed aiming to injure him when he twisted his left arm, yanking it from its moorings. His teammates jumped to Olynyk’s defense, saying their lanky and amiable teammate would never harm a flea. The non-aligned, however, may be excused if they see merit in Love’s bitter claims. It was that kind of game. Nasty! The Celts’ Jae Crowder jousted with Cavs Perkins and Smith with the Cavs pair seeming the greater aggressors both times. It’ll be a hot ticket when these two meet again. Alas, we must wait until next year.

So it’s lights out! The new Garden goes dark again in April, long unheard of. There will be no more frolicking there this spring.  At the old Garden, there was a span of more than a quarter century from the late sixties well into the nineties when the place would be jumping, hammer and tong, all the way through the merry month of May and the great race would be to see which of our pets – the hockey guys or the basketball guys – would carry us forth, bells and whistles blasting, on into June. Lord, but I miss those days. But it’s harder now. Parity is the iron law of sport. There are no more dynasties, nor even would-be ones.  
  
Flattened in the playoffs, the Celtics will nonetheless be spared significant media abuse. Whereas when the Bruins got beaten last year by a tough and worthy Canadiens edition in seven hard-fought games, they got pounded. More to the point, when the Celtics have missed the playoffs, even by substantial margins as has recently been the case, they get politely excused whereas when the Bruins failed to make the playoffs this year they got crucified, even though they had reasonable excuses like having to play much of the season with a decimated defense corps. It has not always seemed fair.

There are reasons. The Celtics still enjoy that willing suspension of disbelief Maestro Red Auerbach wove so brilliantly years ago. In the ownership of the Jacobs clan, viewed with mistrust from the start, the Bruins have enjoyed no such advantage. And now there’s the possibility that factor may be about to worsen.  

Further, the media in this town have long understood basketball better than hockey, although once upon a time – ironically when the Celts were at their very best – it was the other way around. In this year’s testy post-mortems, few of which have been cogent, the loudest indignation over the Bruins flop has come from columnists who very rarely deign to attend regular season games. How boring.

They demanded the cashiering of GM Chiarelli and they promptly got their wish, courtesy of a vengeful and ill-informed ownership. Do you not also find it interesting that Chiarelli remained unemployed less than two weeks? He now gets a choice post in Edmonton where the Oilers, holding the first draft choice and about to grab the game’s alleged next superstar, are primed to take off. In the end, Chiarelli may regard himself a very lucky fellow, deservedly or otherwise.

But if there is no joy here in this Hockey Mudville, there’s much of it elsewhere. The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs – often the wildest and best – has been spectacular in crisscrossing the entire continent from Anaheim to Ottawa, New York to Vancouver.

Right off the top there’ve been three significant upsets – Calgary over Vancouver, Chicago over Nashville, Minnesota over St. Louis (the team the alleged savants tabbed as favorites) – with a couple more on the brink. 

The theatre has been wonderful, and all games ferocious. It has been suggested that the refs are stuffing their whistles in their back pockets. Hitting has been hellacious and at a heightened clip impossible to sustain over the long regular season. The goaltending has been unreal with Montreal’s Price, New York’s Lundquist, and Minnesota’s Dubnyk near ungodly. All games have been tight with near half ending in sudden-death overtime. In the Rangers’ four wins over the Penguins, the final score in every game was 2-1.  And in every building passions are over the top, with sustained emotion rising, night after night, to operatic levels.

How does it get any better?

But to further your chagrin, the properly loathed Canadiens bear on, lucky survivors of the Ottawa uprising that ruined the Bruins. Be warned! The hated Habs are getting all the breaks. In the deciding game of their torrid series, the Senators’ tying goal was negated by a referee’s quick whistle. It was borderline ridiculous, the sort of divine intervention that could only save the bloody Canadiens. On the other hand, it demonstrates how the difference can be the razor’s-edge margin of a mere whistle.  

How can you not love that?