When a contending team goes through a prolonged bad stretch—as the C’s are now, in a 4-7 slump—the knee-jerk reaction is to say, “Championship teams don’t play poorly for a dozen games! They’re too good!”
The reality is a little more complicated. In a thoroughly unscientific exercise, I went through every championship team of the 2000s to find their worst stretch of the season. Two things jump out:
1) All but one had a prolonged poor stretch of play comparable to Boston’s current 4-7 streak;
2) A majority of those poor stretches happened in January or early February.
Please note: I am not using this scant evidence to argue either that the Celtics current streak doesn’t matter or that good teams are most likely to struggle from the 30 game mark until the All-Star break. The latter conclusion wouldn’t surprise me, but someone with a handy database and the computer skills to manipulate it would have to do some work to test out that theory.
But here are the worst stretches for all the champions of the oughts/aughts:
The 2000 Lakers—a 67-15 juggernaut that had two winning streaks of more than a dozen games—went 3-6 over nine games in mid-to-late January.
The 2001 Lakers went 5-6 over 11 games in mid-late January.
The 2002 Lakers went 3-6 over nine games in late December/early January.
The 2003 Spurs went 7-7 over 14 games in November (and played remarkably consistent ball from then on).
The 2004 Pistons went 2-7 over nine games in December AND 1-8 over nine games in early/mid February. (Note: Six of the eight losses in that latter stretch came before the Pistons acquired Rasheed Wallace, and Sheed played just 12 minutes in the 7th loss—his first game with Detroit).
The 2005 Spurs went 3-5 over eight games in early March, but followed that with a three-game winning streak.
The 2006 Heat finished the season 4-7 and had another 4-7 streak in late November/early December.
The 2007 Spurs went 3-5 over an eight-game stretch in late December/early January
Your 2008 NBA Champion Boston Celtics went 5-5 over a 10-game stretch in mid/late January. We all panicked. Remember?
The 2009 Lakers are the exception. Their worst 10-game stretch of the entire season was a 6-4 run in late February/early March. This was a really consistent team.
Please keep in mind that this is about as unscientific as it gets. Each of these teams experienced unique circumstances that account for some of the these stretches. The Heat coasted toward the end of 2006, resting Wade and Shaq in their last two losses. The Spurs are famously slow starters—or, more accurately, they are famously fast finishers and only “pretty good” starters.
But there’s enough evidence here to at least say that a 4-7 stretch—one heavy with road games and coinciding with an injury to a key player—does not mean the team as constituted cannot win a title.
So cheer up and enjoy your Friday. And hope the C’s beat Portland tonight. Because another couple of losses, and the C’s will be on a streak worse and longer than any bad streak experienced by a 2000s champ.