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April 10, 2015

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Page 16 BOSTON POST-GAZETTE, APRIL 10, 2015 Boxers and Baseball m Part II I thought I would follow up last week's column with some more interesting pho- tos of boxers in a baseball setting. I wonder how many of these boxers would have been good ball players and how many of the ballplayers would have succeeded in the ring. What do you think? Jackie Robinson, Ezzard Charles, and Andy Pafko Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth Joe Louis at the plate Kennedy Sisters, Jack Dempsey, Carol Channing, Gene Tunney, and Frankie Archie Moore takes a swing Ted Williams and Rocky Marciano If ever there was a time of excitement and expectation in the Boston Celtics regu- lar season that time is now. By the time the clock clicks down towards midnight on April 15 -- the income tax fil- ing deadline -- the C's will know their fate. Whether they have made it into the 2015 NBA playoffs or will be having another extended summer break will be de- cided before another week has passed. As in all the pro leagues, it is far more important to be playing your best at the end of the season, rather than in the first part. True, early season victories can provide you with victories in the bank, but only quality play at this time of year can provide the possibility of peak play- off performance. Judging by their play over the last sev- eral weeks, the Celtics have indeed saved their best for last. And, really, when you think about it, the Celtics really experienced at least two different extended spans of results during the 2014- 2015 regular season. If you recall there were all those nights early in the season when the Celtics were es- sentially a first half team. They would take the lead (and sometimes a very large one) at some point during the first half, go into the locker room for halftime and then emerge onto the court for the final 24 minutes as basically a totally different squad. Over the course of the second half, that night's opponent would gradually assume the lead. Some nights it might be as early as the third quarter, while on others it might not occur until the latter stages of the fourth. But whenever it occurred, another potential victory had slipped through the hands of the Green, replaced by another sad setback -- many times in front of a still loyal home crowd. In mid-December the move that everyone knew was coming took place. Sports Illustrated had predicted in its NBA preview edition that Rajon Rondo, the last player on the roster from the 2008 NBA Championship team, would be gone by the league trade deadline in February. Technically, the magazine was correct but in reality the deal with the Dallas Maver- icks had nothing to do the league-wide deadline. By the time that rolled around Rondo was history and a new player had been acquired, Isaiah Thomas from the Phoenix Suns. The deadline also put a stop to roster movement that had become a spigot. Some 25 players had been on the ros- ter for at least one night. When the deadline passed that stopped and the compo- sition of the team was set for the stretch run. Head coach Brad Stevens had a perma- nent team and could now con- centrate on the immediate future. The improvement didn't happen right away. Many observers pick the portion of the season following the an- nual All-Star break as the demarcation line. When the Celtics resumed action, they appeared to be a different team, more energetic, more focused, more positive and in general possessing a new persona that saw them fight to the finish in the vast ma- jority of games. The addition of the talented Thomas helped immensely. Yes, they still lost, but on those nights that they did, they did so without a defeatist atti- tude. They took the setback and learned from it. But, on many more nights than in the first portion of the season, they won. They won going away, they won by coming back, they won in the last minute but they won. They also won enough to bring them into conten- tion for a playoff berth -- something that many felt back in October was just about impossible. After all, this was supposed to be an- other rebuilding year. And while the offensive side has dramatically improved -- especially with the addition of Thomas -- Stevens has indicated that it is the de- fense that may well be the deciding factor concerning whether the team makes the playoffs or not. "The effort has really been good," said Stevens following a recent game. "We talk about it before every game. We have to play with a de- fensive DNA. We have to make it part of who we are every day. That's got to con- tinue to be the emphasis. I think that's a good empha- sis to have because you're focused on what you can con- trol and nothing else." Making the playoffs would be a big plus for the Celtics. They are a young team and even if they didn't get by the first round it would give the players a much- needed introduction to the post-season atmosphere and environment. Remember, in college you do not play a best-of-seven series against an opposing team. The NCAA "March Madness" Tournament is a one-and done-deal. You win and you go on. You lose and you go home. In the NBA playoffs you may lose a game or two (even three) but you continue on to play another day. Nothing beats experience. Thus ma- king the playoffs this year, even if they do not go far, would be a very helpful introduction to the playoffs for the young Celtics as they continue their upward progress. We'll know shortly how it all turned out but one thing is for sure. The last couple of months in the regular season has been one excit- ing time. WWW. BOSTON POSTGAZETTE.CO M