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Now, Boston really does suck

Even by the standards of this famously laid-back city, it was a lackluster, perfunctory chant.

"Sounded like something that came over an intercom," said Cedric Maxwell, who scored 24 points in Game 7 of the Finals to beat the Lakers 26 years ago.

As "Boston Sucks!" chants go, this one really didn't qualify. The ones Maxwell remembers with a peculiarly wistful affection were venomous and sick. "Lakers fans always came to be seen," recalled Maxwell, now a Celtics broadcaster. "But I think we turned them into real basketball fans. I mean, they had a hatred for us. They weren't just yelling 'Boston sucks,' they were throwing things, spitting on us."

Ahh, the good old days.

I was reminded of this bad blood, and all those good things that came of it, at a screening of "Magic and Bird," an exceedingly well-done documentary to air March 6 on HBO. In this age of nine-figure contracts and intra-league fraternization, you forget what an authentic rivalry is supposed to be. One can argue, as do the documentarians, that the hatefulness between Boston and Los Angeles, as personified by Bird and Magic -- went a long way toward saving the league.

Just the memory of it inspired great optimism not two years ago, when the Celtics punked the Lakers in the Finals. After all, what could be better than a resumption of hostilities?

And now you get a half-hearted "Boston Sucks" chant. The fans quit trying after the second quarter.

But don't blame the Angelenos, at least not this time. Rather, the fault lies with the Celtics, as they have not kept up their end of the bargain.

The 2008 Finals seems as long ago as the '80s. If you thought the Celtics of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo had three more years as legitimate contenders, you thought wrong. Boston got old fast. Garnett, who's been playing NBA basketball since graduating from Chicago's Farragut Academy in 1995, is arguably the oldest 33-year-old in league history.

Boston isn't a bad team, not at all. It's worth mentioning that they beat the Lakers Thursday night because, at 34, Allen performed like a young star, and more than that, because the Celtics played better, tougher defense in the fourth quarter.

Still, outside of their own locker room, they're no longer recognized as a real threat. There was an insult in that faint chant. Not hating is not caring.

Remember, Kobe Bryant didn't play, opting instead to nurse a strained tendon and a sprained ankle.

"It was the smart thing for him to do," said Maxwell.

Of course, it was. Then again, part of Bryant's genius is his capacity to take things personally. Would he have sat out this game last year, when he still felt a need to get even? Would he have sat out if this game had really mattered, even if only for the sake of perception?

"I don't think so," conceded Maxwell.

Bryant's absence was another insult. Still, as coach Doc Rivers said after the one-point victory, "We'll take it. It's nice to get a win on the road."

To a man, Rivers' players swear they're not old. But the coach himself is a little less sanguine. "It's an issue," he said. "We'll see when the playoffs start. We'll see if age is a factor. Or if age" -- experience, he meant -- "is good. I think in the long run, it will be good for us."

That said, Boston's prospects didn't improve with the passing of the trading deadline on Thursday. The Cleveland Cavaliers, with LeBron James and the league's best record, got Antawn Jamison from the Wizards.

"They added more depth, another All-Star," noted Pierce, 32.

Jamison is more than a foot taller than the Celtics' acquisition, Nate Robinson. Five years into his pro career, Robinson is best known as a great dunker -- for a little guy.

"I don't really care, to be honest," said Rondo, when asked to assess each team's performance at the trade deadline.

"We worry about the Celtics," said Garnett. " . . . We don't have time to worry about what everyone else is doing. Matter of fact, I haven't had a conversation with one guy on our team about that."

All that matters, at least in the Celtics' version, is a return to the kind of basketball that made them champions two years ago. But that won't be easy, as Garnett's knees seem to have aged decades in the last couple of years. His scoring is off more than four points a game, and his rebounding down almost two boards a night. Worse still, the 35-year-old big man acquired to pick up the slack has not, and will not.

Rasheed Wallace -- who is 6-11 -- shot 1-for-9 Thursday night, 0-for-3 from behind the three-point line. He had three rebounds, which was fewer than the slightly built point guard, Rondo. That's typical. Rondo averages 4.4 rebounds; Wallace, 4.3.

What Wallace does better than anyone else on the Celtics is chuck up threes. Going into last night's game, exactly half his shots -- 220 -- were threes. That's 42 more threes than Allen had attempted.

That's not going to make Garnett's knees feel any better.

Nor will a little guy who can dunk.

Nate Robinson won't inspire anyone to scream "Boston Sucks!"