Friday, May 30, 2008

Finally Satisfaction

Oh my. The amazingness continues. There is a ton to say, but for now let's be brief and try to enjoy the moment. The Celtics made the Finals tonight by doing exactly as we would have hoped - by playing their way, and not backing down an inch. It was how they played the entire regular season, a terrific display of defense, toughness, and resolve. Now if we only knew what to make of it. Beating Detroit in six seems like a hell of an accomplishment. But if you read Simmons today you would think it's all for naught. And he's got a point. But everything is deeper than what Simmons wrote about, and it's impossible not to start thinking about what the Celtics are as we savor the afterglow of this wonderful victory.

What was so gratifying about tonight is that the Celtics shouldn't have won this game. The officiating in the third quarter was atrociously biased against Boston, so despite playing better than the Pistons they found themselves in a ten point hole. If they played how they usually did in the postseason they would have just faded away. But instead Boston battled back as only superior teams can. And therein lies the great paradox of this club - no team this year has more talent than the Celtics, including the Lakers. It's just we no longer have any idea how much of it will be on display.

It was all there tonight, however. And I truly believe that the Celtics are better than a Bynum-less Lakers. I know Gasol adds a whole new (and brilliant) dimension to LA, but the Celtics whooped the Lakers both times they played them, and seemed to match up very favorably to the purple and gold. Now, apparently, everything has changed - the Lakers have exceeded expectations, while the Celtics have struggled mightily. But the Finals don't start till Thursday. The Celtics will have more than one day off for the first time in over a month. In many ways they are actually more of a veteran team than the Lakers. And maybe, just maybe, things are only gonna get better for the Green.

And Then There Were Three

The Lakers beat the Spurs last night, 100-92, and I seriously doubt there's anyone reading this who didn't already know that. Still, the Lakers are in the Finals and this now fulfills my bold prophecy that the Spurs would not make it out of the first round/Conference Semifinals/Conference Finals. It also means that the NBA is now 50% of the way towards the NBA-brought-to-you-by-Gatorade's wet-dream matchup of Celtics-Lakers in the NBA Finals.

Speaking of... I hate to be a wet blanket here and embrace that fearsome stranger known as "objectivity"-- and this is NOT an expression of doubt about the Celtics' ability to win this series-- but am I the only one who finds it strange that no one is talking about the fact that Lakers-Pistons would be a pretty sweet series as well? I mean, it's not like there's no historical rivalry between those two teams: in fact, since the start of the Magic/Bird/Isiah era, the Celtics and Lakers have squared off in the finals only one more time than the Pistons and Lakers have. And don't forget that Phil Jackson and Kobe are probably still stinging from the Pistons' huge upset win in 2004, a truly embarrassing moment for the Lakers' franchise all around.

Again, in no way do I mean to suggest that I'd be anything less than devastated if the Pistons beat the Celtics in this series, and one could even make the case that this post could function as a "reverse jinx" against the Pistons. Still, you hear a lot of noise about coastal media bias, and while I do think a lot of that's exaggerated, if I were a Pistons fan let's just say I'd probably be acutely concerned with the officiating of tonight's game and particularly Sunday's, if necessary (heaven forbid).

And, finally, a few words of eulogy for the San Antonio Spurs, model franchise and most dominant team of the past decade: Fuck you and I'm glad you lost. I'd also like to point out that Robert Horry scored 2 points in 53 minutes this series and was a DNP-CD in Game 5. In his defense the two points were probably super clutch, somehow.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Puzzling, But in a Good Way?

This whole postseason thing is one hell of a roller-coaster, I'll tell you that much. In what might have been the most dramatic game of their playoffs thus far, the Celtics held on to beat the Pistons at home, 106-102. This now leaves the Celtics one win away from reaching their first NBA Finals since 1987, although I'd like a show of hands from those who think that win is easily waiting just around the corner. Yeah, that's what I thought. This was an odd game, one in which neither of the teams appeared capable of playing well at the same time as the other, which led to a sort of see-saw effect. The Celtics started the game off well, then the Pistons surged ahead, then the Celtics surged WAY ahead (up 17 at one point), and then, well, the Pistons put the clamps down. Despite being up 15 in the fourth, the Pistons got the lead down to one in the final gasps of this thing, and as a C's fan I feel personally lucky that we escaped this one with even a nervous smile on our faces. Losing this game would have been devastating; winning at least gives us a chance to close this thing out on Friday, although that chance feels pretty goddamn remote right now. I don't know, check with me tomorrow, maybe I'll feel a little more sanguine about the whole thing, but I doubt it's a buyers' market for Game 7 tickets right now, if you catch my drift.

The Pistons' defense was simply incredible down the stretch tonight, and while the Celtics' defense was justifiably celebrated from November through April, since the playoffs started they haven't really showed us any late-game performances like the one Detroit threw our way tonight. It was brutal, suffocating, smothering, pick your violent cliche of choice. We need to find a way to deal with it, because there's absolutely no reason to think we're not going to see much, much more of it in an elimination-game situation in Detroit on Friday. I need to stop writing about this, as it's making me edgy and irritable.

The two big stories of the night were first and foremost Kendrick Perkins, who came through with a mindblowingly huge 18 points and 16 boards and appeared to be channeling Dwight Howard through much of the first half, and Ray Allen, who veritably exploded for 29 points some huge clutch shots in the closing 90 seconds or so. It's nice to have him back... let's hope he decides to stay. Aside from these guys, Garnett contributed an extremely efficient 33 points on 11-17 shooting, and Pierce went for 16 to go with 6 assists and 5 rebounds. Rondo added 13 assists but shot 3-14 and you know what, I really don't want to talk about him right now. There are nights when he makes me really happy and nights when he absolutely fucking terrifies me and you can probably guess what kind of night this was.

I think I'm done here. Let's close this out Friday night, for reals.

What? Um, no. NO.

I can't resist posting about this... yesterday "senior writer" J.A. Adande, who's probably a perfectly nice gentleman in real life, put up one of the stupidest articles I've read since we started writing this site, which is truly saying something considering that Peter May was at the Globe until only a few weeks ago. A (if not the) central premise of Adande's piece is that Robert Horry belongs in the Hall of Fame. Adande opens his article with a quote from the movie Shane, and well, it somehow manages to go much farther downhill from there.

According to Adande, Horry belongs in the Hall of Fame because he has made some big shots and has seven championship rings. I will grant you that this is a truly amazing statistic; Adande points out that it hasn't happened in thirty years. There's no doubt in my mind that Horry has picked his free-agent spots quite judiciously, and has definitely been a contributing player on some all-time great teams. Still...

Robert Horry has career averages of 7.0, 4.8 and 2.1. He's averaged only 24.5 mpg over his career, and only four seasons out of sixteen did he average more than 30. He's never played an 82-game season. Let's not even discuss things like All-Star appearances, because clearly there aren't any. To suggest that he belongs in the Basketball Hall of Fame--a building that already has far, FAR too many residents--is utter insanity. Adande tries to bolster his argument by saying that K.C. Jones is in the Hall of Fame with similar numbers, but neglects to mention that Jones wasn't elected until 1989, after he'd won two rings as a head coach. That gives Jones a total of 10 rings to Horry's 7, and I'm truthfully not at all sure that K.C. Jones belongs in the Hall of Fame to begin with.

Some other "pieces of Adande:"

There hasn't been a description that has stuck with Horry his entire career. He was a small forward who moved to power forward. He has started almost as many games as he has entered as a reserve.

Wow, he made the revolutionary switch from 3 to 4? How courageous. The reason we see guys being shuffled between 3 and 4 all the time, often within a single game, must be because Robert Horry pioneered this daring move. The last sentence is hilarious, too: basically Adande is framing the fact that Horry hasn't been good enough to start for the majority of his career as if it's some sign of greatness and versatility.

Has there been anyone you'd dread seeing in position to kill your team more than Horry? It's his big shots in big moments that warrant Horry's mention among the game's greats.

Did he really write that? There are probably at least twenty players I've dreaded seeing in a game-winning situation more than Horry, and that's being incredibly generous. Let's start with Michael Jordan and go from there, shall we? Granted, Horry has hit some huge, huge shots, freakishly disproportionate to his day-to-day contributions, but that's exactly the point: the reason it's so fascinating is that he's not that good in the first place. This is basically an anti-argument for HOF-inclusion.

Lastly, I have to take issue with Adande's sycophantic free-pass of Horry's recent dirty tactics. Adande's only evidence for Horry not being guilty of dirty play is Horry's own defense of himself, which doesn't seem particularly weighty. I don't think that Horry's an out-and-out thug, but there's no denying the fact that the end of his career has been marred by two high-profile instances of dirty play, the Nash body-slam from last year and the repugnant clip of David West during this year's Hornets' series. I don't think it's entirely unreasonable to expect a better explanation for this sort of stuff than Horry himself has offered.

Look, I think it's really impressive that Horry's got seven rings. It's a pretty unique accomplishment these days. However, articles like this one are so unbelievably lazy, unresearched and undeveloped that it's depressing when they pollute public basketball discourse. Robert Horry doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame and there's nothing wrong with that. He will be remembered, but writing articles like these is not the way to go about doing that.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Coaching Question

The subject of Glenn Rivers' coaching performance during these playoffs has been marred with controversy pretty much since Game 3 of the Hawks series. For those of us who've never been convinced of Glenn's competence it was easy to blame the team's underachieving on his playcalling deficiencies; others chose to blame the poor performance of certain players, arguing that it doesn't matter what plays you call if guys can't hit open jump shots or, even worse, won't even take them. Both sides had their salient points. However, there recently appears to be a sort of despondent coalescence of feeling around the brutally apparent fact that Glenn Rivers is not a championship-caliber NBA coach, not by a long shot. He's been arguably outcoached thus far by two guys (the Mikes, Woodson and Brown) who are almost universally considered to be in the bottom tier of head men in the league, and let's face it, Flip Saunders isn't exactly making anyone forget Red Auerbach, either. Even if the Celtics can get past the Pistons, does anyone want to see what Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich will do to a Glenn Rivers-coached team in the NBA Finals? Good lord.

I could take this time to catalogue the various deficiencies of Glenn's strategies, or lack thereof, as Simmons did in his cathartic guilty pleasure from a couple weeks' back. I could bang my head against my computer in frustration that we still--STILL--have absolutely nothing resembling a consistent rotation, even having just completed the 100th game of our season. These are all valid criticisms and weighty evidence of an NBA coach in far, far over his head.

But I'd rather step back and look at a slightly larger picture. Here are the names of the men who, in the past twenty years, have won NBA titles: Popovich. Riley. Brown. Jackson. Tomjanovich. Daly. And you know what? That's it. Basketball, quite simply, is a sport where coaching seriously, seriously matters. This isn't football, where every now and then a coach like Brian Billick or Barry Switzer will win a Super Bowl simply because his players are so good they won't allow him to fuck it up. And it's certainly not baseball, where the basic job description of the manager is often simply to stay out of the way. In a very real sense, in basketball, there are championship-caliber coaches and then there's everyone else, and from all indications, Glenn Rivers falls into the category of "everyone else," and right now that feels like an almost laughable understatement.

Hey, I hope he proves me wrong, and soon, but how fucking hollow does that sound right now? A bigger-picture problem is the fact that if Ainge didn't fire Glenn after three seasons of grotesque mediocrity there's no reason to think he'll fire him now, unless--and this is an extremely outside but still existent possibility--ownership is so committed to winning a title (which they genuinely appear to be) and so frustrated with this team's playoff performance (which is thoroughly unclear right now) that they force the issue. Again, this probably won't happen, especially because there's not a whole lot out there that represents a genuine upgrade over Rivers, particularly now that Larry Brown's settled on Charlotte. Except...

Be warned, this post is about to veer into flagrantly irresponsible, baseless speculation; Buzz Bissinger's getting aroused even as I type this. I think that, if the Celtics lose this Pistons series, management should seriously consider putting out a feeler towards Pat Riley. Granted, Riley seems pretty well ensconced in South Beach right now, but don't forget how he ended up there in the first place: the whole Arison/Knicks tampering debacle. In other words, it's not outside the realm of possibility that he'd at least be flattered by the attention. More importantly, if Riley were to come back to coaching, and many think it's only a matter of time before he does, isn't this precisely the sort of situation he would jump at? A solid veteran core and intriguingly deep bench whose championship window is right fucking now? Sounds a lot like the situation that led to the bloodless overthrow of Stan Van Gundy a few years back. And while I realize that it'd be almost perverse for Riley to take the helm of the Celtics after his storied history with the Lakers, but hasn't Riley always struck you as exactly the sort of contrarian asshole who would relish such a move?

Again, this is nothing short of flagrantly irresponsible speculation, an extravagant daydream. There's a million and one reasons why this is almost entirely impossible. But then again, nothing's impossible, and daydreams sometimes feel like all you've got.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Lucid Morbidity

Tonight's loss sucked on a number of levels, but the primal point seems to remain: the Celtics aren't the same team as they were in the regular season. And ultimately, that is what sucks most. The Celtics' team we loved this year never would have laid the egg that this team did tonight, just like it never would have been forced to play seven games against Atlanta and Cleveland. But this current group - same in form, different in persona - seems lucky just to be here. If you were to tell me before the year we would be 2-2 with the Pistons in the EC Finals I would have been enthralled, no matter what the extenuating circumstances might have been. But the reality today is I'm down, down, down - because I've lost most of my faith in this team, because they've consistently been subpar for much of the last month. Harsh words? Maybe. But I held this squad to high standards because they earned high standards, and seemed to demand nothing less. And then they just deteriorated.

Don't get me wrong - the Celtics could still get to the Finals, and I guess they could even win it. If that happened obviously everything I just wrote would dissolve into delusion. But frankly it doesn't appear the Celtics are capable of that. I am not ready to even begin to explain why, not until the entire thing plays out. But something seems very wrong to me, and has since Game 4 against ATL.

Tonight's loss taken by itself doesn't seem particularly bad. Detroit played great defense, ran their offense, and had good energy. But you compound this Celtics' loss with all their other road losses during the postseason and you end up just muttering profanities into the wind. It's all unsettling, and a major thing, not just Glenn or Ray fucking things up.

But I do have to say something about Glenn, I can't help it: PLAY LEON POWE YOU FUCKING BASTARD. YOU ARE AN ABSOLUTE FOOL TO LEAVE HIM ON THE BENCH. Ah, I feel a little better. Sleep well, my friends.

Decoration Day Delights

Happy long weekend, folks. The sun is out and I feel like a blog post. Last night the Spurs beat the Lakers 103-84 in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, a development that might be characterized as "unsurprising." In case you haven't notied, the Spurs seem to have a knack for winning when they need to (just ask the Hornets... oh, wait, they're no longer available for comment), and last night clearly qualified as one of those situations. It'll be interesting to see if they can pull the same stuff with the Lakers, who allegedly have more "experience" than the Hornets, or at the very least a better coach. Manu Ginobili scored 30 points, Duncan went for 22 and 21 and oh sweet lord I'm trying so hard not to strangle myself as I write this. I don't want to say that I'm rooting for the Lakers in this series, because I don't think that's entirely possible for me, but let's just say my desire for a Spurs-less finals isn't exactly dwindling as the hour approaches. It's been pointed out to me numerous times that the Spurs are simply the New England Patriots of the NBA, that the way I feel towards the Spurs, namely that they're an infuriating combination of dull and dirty, is precisely the way the rest of America feels about the Pats. I accept this point, and were I in the position to make a Belichickian non-apology to the rest of America for the Pats' Spursiness, perhaps I would. Hey, at least we didn't win it this year.

Anyways, where was I... ah yes, the Lakers. This provides a workable segue into another unsurprising-though-no-less-irritating development this morning, namely a classic Dan Shaughnessy sleepwalk that appears in today's Globe sports section. I have to be honest, I've actually been fairly okay with Shaughnessy during this NBA playoffs: forced into C's duty due to the unfortunate departure of Jackie MacMullan, I feel like his basketball writing is refreshingly free of the stultifying self-importance that's plagued his baseball writing for the past ten years or so. Nonetheless, as anyone who's read his Sox writing is aware, Shaughnessy basically has two types of fallback columns when he runs out of insightful shit to write: the rip and the jinx. The rip is obvious enough, and can be quite directly explained as just CHB being CHB. The jinx is less common but still pretty pervasive, and consists of Shaughnessy actively making the sort of hasty, presumptuous, ill-conceived statement that everyone who has ever followed sports knows you should never make. It's not even superstition, more just common courtesy; propriety, even. The happiest instance of this was when, in 2004, he flatly declared the Sox dead in the water during the ALCS, thus tempting fate for the side of good. A notable unhappy instance would be his column the following year in which he flatly declared, sometime in July, that the Yankees had absolutely no shot at winning the AL East that year (and guess what happened). These sorts of things are absolute anathema to Sox fans, and CHB clearly, clearly does them solely to piss people off.

Well, congratulations, Dan: on this fine morning you have accomplished your mission. I'm not entirely sure why he's decided that right now is a great time to write his "imagine if the Lakers and Celtics were in the Finals together!" column--it seems like he could have at least waited until the C's had won a third game--but this little musing is barely worth the modicum of space it's taking up on the Globe's server. I was hoping that the headline was a Battlestar Galactica reference--any sort of silver lining would be nice--but I unfortunately don't think it is. A column like this is already obnoxious coming from a guy who only a few days ago was hysterically proclaiming the Celtics as doomed to failure, but the real problem with it is that it's just airy garbage, and makes you wonder what sort of bullshit we're going to have to endure if everyone's dream finals matchup comes to fruition. I mean, I'm not sure how many nostalgia-wads CHB's got in his holster, but I'm sure this is just the tip of the iceberg, and can you imagine Bob Ryan if this shit goes down? We're gonna be getting 8,000-word profiles of Scott Wedman written in M.L. Carr's tears.

Anyways, wah wah wah, I'll shut the fuck up now. I feel like I should address Tim's recent comments about the Draft, if only because discussing the NBA Draft in late May is invariably one of the more enjoyable activities of the sports year; I'm not entirely sure why that's the case, but it just is. A few months ago I declared that, were I holding the top pick in this year's draft, I'd think long and hard about selecting Beasley over Rose, and I stand by that claim, even though Beasley does superficially seem a better fit for the Bulls, who already have a respectable point guard in Kirk Hinrich. I'd hasten to point out, though, that this was part of the logic that led the Bucks to draft Andrew Bogut over Chris Paul and Deron Williams (they already had T.J. Ford), and I'm guessing most Milwaukee fans/management/anyone-other-than-Bogut-himself wishes that they could have that decision back. The big thing I'd be on the lookout for is the Bulls trying to shop the pick: the beautiful thing about their situation is that while either Rose or Beasley would be super-nice to have, the Bulls don't desperately need either of them, and if there are teams out there who are convinced that they do desperately need one of them, well, Chicago's in a good position to potentially fleece someone looking to overreach on some rookie who, as Tim's pointed out, will probably be neither an Oden nor a Durant, let alone a Chris Paul.

This leads me to another discussion, whether or not this is really a two-player draft. Again, I'd have to agree with Tim that this angle's been overplayed. Chad Ford's got an O.J. Mayo boner that won't quit, and while Chad's track record on these things isn't uniformly pristine (the Pavel Podkolzine affair, anyone?), it's strong enough that we should take him seriously. Ford seems to think Mayo could be the most complete player in the Draft, and there's rumors out of Miami that the Heat prefer him to whomever conventional wisdom suggests they ought to take with the second pick. I'm not entirely sold on the prospects of a Mayo-Wade backcourt, but whatever.

Truthfully I haven't watched enough NCAA ball this year to have a real solid grip on who could do what in the pros. I do think that Beasley and Rose are the two best players, though I'm not convinced either has superduperstar potential (though again, I'd say Rose more than Beasley), and I definitely don't think the gap between, say, Beasley and Mayo is as wide as the gap between Durant and Mike Conley. We'll see, I guess; I do think that the potential for trades (or at least trade rumors) in the run-up to this year's draft will be pretty huge, just because there appears to be so little consensus on whose stock is where.

Anyways, I'm tapped out. Enjoy the holiday. Might the Celtics go up 3-1 tonight? The heart flutters at the thought.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Yes We Can

Sorry for the slight delay in this post, but the giddy sense of near-disbelief finally garnered from a road win is almost too much for words. Alright, maybe that's a bit much, but still, who didn't wake up this morning feeling just a little bit better about almost everything? Last night the Celtics played like a Championship-caliber basketball team, plain and simple. It was almost certainly the best performance we've seen from the Green this entire postseason--some might point to the Game 7 drubbing of the Hawks, but come on, it was the Hawks, and more depressingly, it was Game 7--and puts the Celtics in a great position going into Monday. If we can win the next one in Detroit the series is all but over, and even if we don't we'll head back to Boston tied 2-2 for what will essentially be a best-of-three with homecourt advantage... precisely the situation the Celtics faced during the regular season, when they took the series 2-1. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Last night was just fantastic, an almost entirely dominating performance and one of those classic games that great teams just go out and win. The Pistons had changed the complexion of the series when they stole game 2 in Boston, but last night the Celtics went out and changed it right back, and in rather dramatic fashion. With the exception of a brief spot where they trailed by two in the first quarter, this was a wire-to-wire affair; the Pistons started to claw their way back a few times, most memorably towards the middle of the fourth quarter, but the C's always had an answer: in their eyes, the game never appeared in doubt. People talk a lot--too much--about "must-win" games, and lord knows the Celtics have played their share of those in these playoffs, but one of the marks of true excellence is stopping the must-win situation before it even presents itself. It's the prime reason I don't see the Spurs winning it all this year, and it's the prime reason my faith in the Celtics' chances is currently the highest it's been since, what, Game 3 of the Hawks series? Not a stretch.

The Celtics had no dominating star performance, but managed to get six guys into double figures, with KG leading the way with 22. The big story from this one was the bench: guys like Posey, PJ and even Cassell made big plays at big moments, muting the impact of Garnett, Pierce and Allen occasionally dealing with foul trouble. As for your nightly Ray Allen update, Employee #20 had a rough night from the floor (5-16) but actually played quite well otherwise: 6 assists, 6 boards, and generally looking refreshingly confident in the offense even though his shots weren't falling. The highest praise, however, must be reserved for Kendrick Perkins, who played like a grown-ass man tonight: 12 points, 10 boards, and a thankful minimum of Kendrick Scissorhands-moments and shitty whining to the zebras. If Perk can figure out a way to play like this consistently--knocking down short open jumpers, playing great help defense, snaring big-time rebounds--then the Celtics will be truly scary, although we've been saying that most of the season and should probably just learn to love him for who he is. Which certainly wasn't hard last night.

Don't look now, David Stern, but your NBA is halfway home to a Celtics-Lakers finals. In the meantime though, let's focus on the task at hand; I'm already excited for Monday.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Not Two

One of the more perplexing elements in this year's draft is the assumption that the top two players are going to be far superior to everyone else. I don't see it shaking out that way, and find it mildly offensive that seemingly everyone is willingly embracing this "Elite Two" idea.

The 2007 draft was unique - Oden was the classical center we see maybe twice a decade, and Durant made a shockingly indelible mark. By December it was clear that both were special talents worthy of the #1 selection. The age-limit rule was the only reason either of these guys attended school, and their wholly unique talents were on full display - Oden was a virtuoso center and Durant a freakishly long forward that spelled out "FUTURE". Both were special, not the type of players that show up every year or two.

Now we have 2008. Michael Beasley and Derrick Rose are two exceptional freshman, and because we were so inundated with the Freshman Duo of '07, we seem to have unconsciously labeled Beasley and Rose as being in the same realm. And they are not. While Beasley had one of the more prolific statistical seasons (playing Sacramento State and Winston Salem helps) a freshman has ever had, he has none of the revolutionary knack that Durant's game oozes with. Beasley is instead just an extremely talented forward, and one who should be an All-Star many times over. But his talent alone does not imply championships, as both Oden and Durant did last year.

However Beasley's misrepresentation in draft circles seems minor compared to Derrick Rose's status, which gets more overblown with each passing day. Rose is an incredible athlete who has been deemed the "next great point guard" despite the fact that he really hasn't shown to be much of a floor general. That is understandable for a 19 year old - but Rose seems more of a natural scorer than anything else, and while that is fine and should translate well into the next level, it is far too early to compare him with Chris Paul or Deron Williams. Rose's stats, unlike Beasley's, do not shoot out on us - instead he has the reputation of being a winner, although it helped that the Memphis team he was on was absolutely loaded ( and he wasn't actually their best player).

So the hype over these two guys and then the supposed drop off is sensationalistic - it is quite possible that the best player in the draft will be picked later. I personally think Jerryd Bayless (incredible scorer) and Kevin Love (an animal inside) will both be better pros than Rose. But the larger point is that good talent will linger long after the top two of this draft. The talent dip is not like last year - there is not the high peak that Oden and Durant represented, but more of a gradual slope. Shades of 1990 surely exist, but the storyline to follow this year could be how overhyped freshman (OJ Mayo, Eric Gordon, DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Randolph) get picked far too early. Ultimately the '08 draft might go down as blowback from '07 - and in retrospect we might begin to realize how dangerous it can be to overrate freshman, because not all can live up to their imagined potentials.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Damage Done

Normally losing to Detroit in Game 2 would not totally freak you out. But obviously this situation is far from normal. And that is why we may have seen the beginning of the end here tonight. The Celtics have shown no certifiable signs of beating a team of Detroit's standards away from their home court all month long. Of course that could change - but there is strong evidence to argue otherwise.

Even if that is not the case, tonight's loss was disheartening. The Triumvirate and Rondo all showed up offensively, but the defense was only adequate - which is why we had an unusually high point total of 200. And while the Celtics did not seem to shrink down the stretch, they hardly stepped up - while the Pistons played like the steady, confident team that they are. They got the rebounds and hit the big shots to keep the lead. Their offense, which can be nothing short of devastating, ran smoothly and unselfishly. Meanwhile the Celtics often seemed hesitant to recognize what shot was the best to take - either under or over passing again and again at the finish of the game. It wasn't terrible - it just didn't leave you with any confidence when compared to the Pistons' stunning offensive precision.

But maybe it was the Celtics' D that let them down - because 97 points usually will get it done against Detroit in this setting. Or maybe it was Glenn. I bit my tongue early in the playoffs, but he's getting progressively worse in my eyes as the postseason matures. What a surprise. Leon Powe played all of three fucking minutes tonight - the same player who had the second best PER on the team this year. Meanwhile PJ played 19 minutes and Big Baby 7. Big Baby was nearly invisible; and while PJ performed adequately, he hardly replicated his performance on Sunday. This is ridiculous - as has been pointed out a thousand times - Powe is a fantastic inside offensive option. In a series like this there is a good chance he could flourish and change the complexion of the game. But he languishes on the bench in place of PJ's "veteran" defense and Big Baby's who-knows-what. It's unacceptable - especially saying that Leon crashes the boards better than either of those guys, particularly on the offensive end. I'm sure Glenn has a good excuse for Powe not playing - but it's hogwash, unless he is hurt.

Another interesting topic on the Glenn front is his usage of House over Cassell. While Eddie is probably the better defender, I stand by my position that Cassell is still the more dynamic player and could be more beneficial to this team in many situations. There were times in this game, particularly when Rondo was on the bench, that the offense grew completely stagnant. Cassell is much more likely to remedy this situation than House. Sam is an initiator - he attacks, he doesn't wait for the ball to find him to shoot. Instead he takes the ball and finds a place to shoot it (or pass it). That can be a big difference, and I'm pretty sure we missed Cassell's presence on the floor tonight.

I am hardly ready to write this team off; but mental toughness is going to be the key if the Celtics are going to stand a chance in this series. If they are weak, as they have been all too often, they will return to Boston in a two game hole. And even if they are strong, they still might find themselves in the same predicament, especially if Glenn continues to behave accordingly.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hope Springs

The Celtics beat the Pistons tonight, 88-79, in a game that almost made you forget all the bullshit of the last couple weeks and come scurrying back to the fold of championship dreams. All of a sudden it's disturbingly easy to feel good about this team again: such is the way of the 2008 Celtics' postseason, apparently. If this wasn't a dominating performance it was certainly both an assured and assuring one. The Celtics barely ever trailed and worked with backbreaking efficiency: Garnett had 26 and 9, Pierce had 22 and Rondo even pitched in 5 steals for good measure. Ray Allen we won't talk about. Once again, the Celtics seemed to have all the answers at home, and this win was particularly impressive considering that the Pistons had enjoyed a week off and the C's had just endured their most draining win of the playoffs. I almost don't want to say anything more, because I'm afraid I'll jinx it, but if you were looking for some sort of sign or, more likely, just something to feel good about, tonight probably fit the bill. Towards the end of the game ESPN flashed up some statistic to the effect of the team that wins Game 1 of the Conference Finals has gone on to win 79% of the series(es?)... I don't have the wherewithal to look it up and confirm it right now, but it works for me.

The other big NBA news tonight is that, in a rather stunning turn of events, the Chicago Bulls have won the NBA Draft Lottery. For those keeping score, the Bulls had a 1.7% chance of winning this thing. It's hard to avoid imagining Mike D'Antoni at home right now, repeatedly banging his head on the sink, trying desperately to come up with something resembling a flux capacitor. Enjoy that sixth pick, Knicks. Hey, that has a bit of a ring to it. Who knows whether the Bulls will take Beasley or Rose (the estimable Chad Ford says Beasley), but one thing that's for sure is that a team that many already thought would compete for the Eastern Conference title this year just got a whole lot more interesting next year. I dunno, I gotta think they'll go with Beasley, just because they're one of the few teams in the lotto that actually already have a legit point guard. And this clearly works out well for the Heat, who almost certainly would have drafted Rose if they'd won the whole thing. You gotta feel for the Wolves, too, who have to deserve something one of these days, right? What? Eh, maybe they don't.

Anyways, a convincing win tonight on a number of levels. I'm almost ready to start forgiving and forgetting, but only if they show me they can really change. And starting hitting your fucking jump-shots, #20. PLEASE.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Motherfucking Truth

It's often forgotten that when Shaquille O'Neal first bestowed one of basketball's great nicknames on Paul Pierce, his exact words were: ""Take this down. My name is Shaquille O'Neal and Paul Pierce is the motherfucking truth. Quote me on that and don't take nothing out."

For obvious reasons, most newspaper reporters were unable to oblige Shaq's request, but were there ever a time to retroactively honor it, that time is now. Yesterday Pierce reminded us for the eleventy gazillionth time that he's the best Celtic since Bird, and as Bob Ryan notes in today's Globe, the greatest pure scorer the team has ever had. There are only a handful of guys who've ever played basketball who are capable of the sort of performance Pierce had yesterday, and amazingly two of them were on the court at the same time. Needless to say, these are the players we remember. Paul Pierce hasn't always been perfect during his ten seasons with the Celtics but more often than not he's been close, and few Boston athletes have put up with more bullshit criticism and false accusations of failure than the Celtics' captain. No matter what he's done it's never been enough for some people, even though Pierce has spent the vast majority of his time here playing his heart out for terrible teams, often lifting them to heights they have no business achieving. For his troubles he's been frequently and inexplicably characterized as selfish, immature, malcontented, and just generally not Larry Bird. Yesterday should prove once and for all that he deserves our highest respect, but the fact of the matter is that he always has. For all of the time that's been spent focusing on what Paul Pierce is not we've tended to lose sight of what he is: namely, the sort of player who will play through pain to score 41 points in a Game 7, refusing to let his team lose the most important game of their season. That, my friends, is all one can ask for from a team captain.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

We Made It

Relief. Before the playoffs started, anything less than a trip to the Conference Finals would have qualified as complete disaster, and at least now it can be said that was avoided. What else can we say? Well, the Celtics are pretty good at home. This game will probably be considered a modern classic, as you hardly ever see a mano-e-mano scoring duel in a seventh game. And this certainly was the most entertaining game of the series. Both teams actually scored despite good defense! That really can just be attributed to LeBron and Pierce being unstoppable, but it was fun. It's pretty overwhelming that already Boston has been in two seven game grinders, and at this point I am not ready to seriously think about Detroit yet. Let's give it a night. Enjoy this though - despite the Celtics often digging their own ditch in May, they managed to battle through it. We've been waiting for Detroit for months, and now the time is upon us.

A few things are presently worth adding about today's affair. First off, obviously, PP was great, and so was PJ Brown. No one else was particularly overwhelming, but KG, Rondo and Posey all acquitted themselves nicely. The same cannot be said about Ray Allen, who was atrocious, and continues to be a stick in the spoke. I no longer feel like we can expect him to be consistently good, and that is unsettling. And even though the C's won, Glenn coached another poor game - he was too cautious with Rondo in the fourth quarter, leading to turnovers from Pierce handling the ball and general misdirection from the offense. Luckily he ultimately had Paul to bail him out. But Glenn was shaky, which comes as no surprise. The whole Eddie House thing will probably be overblown - Eddie ended up with all of 4 points, so while he played decently, there's no need for a coronation. Ultimately Cassell still might be a better option. And finally the only reason it is remotely okay to only play Powe seven minutes is the fact that PJ Brown had his best game of the year. So if anything, I have less faith in Glenn - he is falling into his '06 habits of playing a guy too much just becuase that player had a good quarter two games ago. It's stupid and dangerous - it's almost always better to go with known quantities - but the Celtics have lived to tell the tale of it so far.

Friday, May 16, 2008

So Far Away

Quite honestly I don't know what to say about this one - the Celtics had their chances, and squandered them, with no help from the officials. The absurdist fatalism of the road follies continues, and at this point it is very hard to make any sense of it. I mean I can point out problems, but even so there is more to it. It's not just Glenn - although he had Paul playing point guard (wtf?) down the stretch, and didn't play Leon at all (despicable). It's not the officials - who were favoring the home team seemingly the whole game, accentuated by the Pierce offensive foul call at the end. And it's not just Pierce and Ray - although both pretty much sucked again. No, this fucked up situation is beyond these issues, and I have given up making sense of it for the time being.

I feel rather certain the Celtics will win on Sunday. I don't feel rather certain about anything else concerning the team. I wish I could tell you that arguably KG's best offensive game of the year meant something deeper, but I can't. I just don't know. I do know Detroit is going to have plenty of time to rest, and that no one I was watching with tonight thinks the Celtics are going to beat them. But the Celtics currently might be beyond our perceptions. I don't get it, none of it adds up, and I'm gonna have to reflect once this whole ride is over to understand a bigger picture. More could be written, but it'd be phony. That can be saved for the morning papers.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Jack perfectly summed it up, but I just want to share a few thoughts in the wake of Game 5. As crazy as it sounds, by the end of last night I was convinced the Celtics still have a shot to win it all. I feel schizophrenic, and maybe it's the only way to feel. Because if there was ever a team that could win a championship by only winning home games, this might be it. That's an outrageous statement, and something that I don't think will ever happen - but the fact that I could even toss it out there shows how wonky this team is. And how good.

Last night we saw the real Celtics, the most talented team in the league, and maybe the most scary. I don't know if we had seen that full a package since Game 2 against ATL. They fought with force the whole second half, and it was a great sight to behold. Finally signs of mental strength were in full display. When they play with this edge, as they did during the regular season, they have to be considered the favorite. And obviously they have hardly fit that profile in the postseason. But when all the jets are firing like last night...well, they're a sight to behold. And no one right now knows when and if those guys will show up. It's not a matter of coaching better (Glenn played Leon all of four minutes last night)or of running certain plays - it's a whole attitude and edge that has been stunningly absent for a few weeks. When they have it, they can beat anybody. But where it goes no one knows. I feel very confident we'll at least get through Cleveland, though.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ah Yes...This Again

Guess what guys??? The Celtics won at home tonight! This now makes the Green 7-0 at home in the postseason, a thoroughly sweet record that's still rather terrifyingly tempered by that glaring 0-5 on the road. I'm all out of words; it's been a schizophrenic postseason and honestly, if they can win in Cleveland on Friday, it'd go a whole hell of a long way towards re-securing my faith in this team as something people should take seriously. The Celtics played goddamn inspired basketball this evening, getting 29 from Pierce, 26 and 16 boards from KG, and an exquisite 20 points, 13 assists and (count 'em) one turnover from Rajon Rondo. Winning basketball is back in Boston, at least for the next day or so.

I'm sorry for the sardonic tone, but Christ, can you keep up with this? If you're looking for an added silver lining in tonight's win, here it is: the Celtics actually played well in a close game for the first time in ages. They were on the verge of being run out of the gym at several points in the first half, hung in there, then methodically took control of the game in a way that we haven't seen since the halcyon days of the regular season. Also, LeBron finally kind of went off tonight (35 points) and it didn't matter; so much for the monster hiding in the closet. Rivers looked like some sort of genius for playing Baby for 12 meaningful minutes, and the C's even weathered an uncharacteristically sluggish off-night from uber-sub James Posey.

If the Celtics play like they did tonight on Friday, we'll come away with a hard-fought six-game series win against the Cavs; nothing to scoff at, indeed. If they don't, well, at this point I honestly don't even need to finish the second part of this equation. Please, Celtics, do what we all know you can and finish this team off on the road. Please. Friday, Cleveland, 8pm. It's not too late to believe again.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Soft Parade

Yesterday's loss was demoralizing and appalling on many levels, but I have to say that I slightly disagree with Jack's assertion that Glenn is the main culprit. If you read this blog, you know I have less faith in Glenn Rivers than just about anyone - I started writing here just because I hated him so much. But for us to pour the majority of the blame on his shoulders for these road woes is going a bit far in my book.

Rivers is not a good coach, no matter how fine a job he did with this team during the regular season. Last night's miscues are just regular stuff in his oeuvre. In my mind, and as has already been pointed out by Wharper, the Big Baby thing was ridiculous - KG didn't need to rest for long, if at all, and Powe should have been in there if KG was not. But P.J. Brown wasn't the problem; he was productive as hell with his minutes. Anyway, what I mean to say is that veteran faith didn't kill them last night - it was a problem, but not the story of the game. What Mike Brown or Flip Saunders do on a regular basis is just as bad.

No, what killed the C's was their same old road-playoff shit: horrible execution by your stars down the stretch. Glenn can talk about "playing better under stress" and KG and Paul can refute that claim , but for once I will agree with Glenn: the Triumvirate (and Rondo etc.) do have to play better under stress. Players have to make plays, not the coaches. As ridiculous as Ainge's faith in Glenn has been over the years, his recent comments ring with truth: players have to respond to the pressure. You've got KG, Pierce and Ray on the floor and you score four points in the last six minutes. That's not Glenn's problem, that's your stars' weaknesses revealed.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Glenn Rivers Tells Playoff Basketball To Go Fuck Itself

You'll have to excuse me, I'm a little angry right now. The Celtics lost to the Cavs tonight 88-77, in Cleveland (surprise!), and, well, we've got a fucking problem. The Celtics are now 0-5 on the road so far, and if you're even tempted to point out that the C's could win a title by only winning at home please go find some sort of ESPN SportsNation message board upon which to ply your considerable intellectual wares. Come on, folks, something is absolutely wrong with this team: over the past three weeks we've lost half as many road games as we lost during the entire regular season. To quote the immortal Pogo, we have met the enemy, and he is us.

Specifically, he's Glenn Rivers, the very coach we've been giving an amiably free pass to for much of the 2007-2008 season thus far. I'm not sure what Coach Rivers is up to, but the Celtics were outscored 20-12 in the fourth quarter tonight, and nothing seemed more apparent than a need for some sort of offensive strategy. The defense, for its part, was outstanding; we did NOT lose this game because of anything the Cavs did. We lost this game because of things that we didn't do, namely score baskets when it counted. We ran pick-and-rolls around Rondo and P.J. Brown; we saw Sam Cassell miss basket after basket; we saw Kevin Garnett look increasingly bewildered and helpless due to the incredibly unfair offensive burden that was casually strapped to his back. AND NOTHING WAS DONE ABOUT IT. We rolled over and died, as if this sort of defeat was somehow inevitable. Once again, I'm angry, but let's talk this over a bit.

First, Leon Powe played six minutes tonight. SIX. P.J. Brown played 23. This isn't to take anything away from P.J., who actually had a fairly nice little game, (8 pts, 6 boards), but why would you yank things around like that? Everyone knows Leon is an up-and-coming energy guy who makes things happen; everyone knows P.J. Brown is a solid free-agent pickup that Glenn spontaneously decided to play 23 minutes during a road game all of a sudden. Even though that had never happened in the regular season. Awesome.

Second, Ray Allen took 10 shots tonight and hit 4 of them. He seemed to be starting to come out of his little shell, gaining confidence and whatnot. He's a really awesome shooter, in case you haven't heard. In fact, we traded a whole bunch of guys for him--a surprising amount of which are now playing for the Cavs, I'd add--to get this guy, and he shot four less shots than Rondo. I'll repeat that: we have one of the NBA's best scorers on our team, and our second-year point guard got more looks.

Look, Glenn Rivers is fucking shit up. I don't know how else to say it. I really don't. This should be the year, but if they realize that then it's up to them.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Grumble, Grumble

I was too tired last night to post after the game, but truthfully I don't have much to write anyway. It's easy to get critical or be lenient with the Green after this loss, because Game 3's are notoriously difficult to win given the situation. So, yeah, plenty of bad shit happened yesterday - the Celtics were mauled at the beginning, never recovered, and looked to be the same screwed up bunch that we got familiar with in Atlanta. But that said, it's a Game 3. After the initial destruction that led to a 26 point hole, it seemed like the Celtics actually held it together some. Of course if "holding it together" means never even cutting the deficit below 12 maybe I'm being too easy on the guys. I just don't know. I feel like Game 4 is gonna tell us what this game really meant. Last night we again saw something absent from the regular season - a blowout where the Celtics never got it close. If ATL hadn't happened it would be shocking, but ATL occurred, and now as fans we just have to roll with the punches and see if this team actually has its act together. Last night didn't help me draw any conclusions, negatively or positively.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

It's Over

The Knicks time of terror just ended as they have agreed with Mike D'Antoni to coach the team. The abject insanity of the Layden-Isiah years is about to be put to rest. D'Antoni was the best coach the Knicks could have hoped for, and I'm surprised he only cost $24 million over four years. You're talking about an exceptional coach; and it won't be surprising to see the Knicks in the playoffs next year. They should be no less fascinating, but the reasons will be vastly different than in the recent past.

The Burning of the Midnight Lamp

"Hope Springs Eternal" or some such overworked platitude might be a more direct way to sum up the second round of the NBA playoffs thus far, but we're all Hendrix fans here, right? With the exception of the Celtics-Cavs series, which began unexpectedly late (no need to go into the specifics of that), the remaining three series have followed a nearly identical script: home team convincingly wins first two games, then drops Game 3 on the road, leading all interested parties to twitter about "momentum," "pride," lack of "quit," blah blah blah blah Christ I can barely keep my eyes open. As you, dear readers, might imagine, I have a strong psychic investment in the Celtics breaking this pattern, but that's unfortunately out of all of our hands unless Leon or Posey reads this blog, which I secretly believe that they do. Quite honestly, a Celtics win tonight would be magnificent, both because history would then be inexorably stacked against the Cavs and simply because it would demonstrate that the Celtics can, in fact, win on non-parquet courts. If the Cavs win we'll be subjected to 48 grueling hours of the media questioning the Celtics' intensity when they're not eagerly fellating King James; this does not sound like fun.

Aside from the Celtics I'd have to say that the series I'm most emotionally invested in is New Orleans' valiant attempt to guillotine the champs. Part of this is because the Hornets are lovable upstarts, part of this is because Chris Paul is to point guards what Eleanor Roosevelt was to First Ladies, and part it is because my hatred of the San Antonio Spurs has now reached blindingly irrational depths. It's honestly not even about the guys on the team anymore: everyone outside of San Antonio readily acknowledges that Bowen is a dirty player, that Ginobili engages in the sort of medicine-show floppery that's terrible for the sport, that Oberto is just Pachulia with an undeserved ring, so there's not much new to say there. I've honestly come to despise the entire aura of the team, the position they've come to hold in the collective consciousness or whatever. This is not their fault, I realize, but I hate them for it anyways.

An example: up until a few years, back when the Yankees actually won stuff (and continuing into well after they didn't), there was an excruciating trend in the way the team's games were announced that friends and I complained about endlessly. Basically, even when the Yankees were losing the games would be called as if they were winning. The team could be down 6-1, Jeter would draw a walk and all of a sudden there'd be all this gushing about how the Yankees refuse to lose, how guys like Jeter show how no lead is safe. Most of the time the inning would end and the Yankees would, of course, lose, which makes sense because that tends to be what happens when you go down 6-1 in any baseball contest, regardless of who you are. The thing that was annoying about this trend wasn't just that it showed a complete lack of respect to the team that was actually winning the game, the team that actually was refusing to lose; it was also just profoundly lazy on the part of the announcers. They had clearly been expecting the Yankees to win the game, which in those days was understandable, but then when they didn't win they wouldn't deviate from the script. They'd just prattle on about Jeter, Posada, even guys like Matsui who'd never won a fucking thing.

Needless to say, this has begun to happen with the Spurs, and it's driving me crazy. Granted, the last game isn't a great example, since the Spurs actually did win, but if you'd only been listening to the announcers without recourse to the score, you'd think they were leading wire-to-wire. You'd think they were dealing a blowout similar to the ones the Hornets had dealt them in the first two games of the fucking series. In reality, this was an extremely close game that until very late could have easily gone either way. The Hornets led at the half. If the Hornets had pulled through and won the game, the announcing would have been abjectly disgraceful, but you know what? It's disgraceful anyways. If I were a Hornets fan I would be absolutely livid about this, and I absolutely guarantee it will happen again on Sunday. When you go up 2-0 in a series you are absolutely the favorite; furthermore, by virtue of being the higher seed, the Hornets arguably should have been the favorites from the onset. Instead they're being treated as a foil so that we can hear about the Spurs' "toughness" and "resiliency," qualities suspiciously absent when they lost the first two games by a combined 37 points through a mixture of what appeared to be apathy and incompetence. But hey, who wants to hear about that? Bruce Bowen is a grinder! I'm losing control. Celtics-Cavs tonight at 8 on ABC.; get ready to hear a lot about the upcoming episode of Grey's Anatomy.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Little Bit Of Sugar

That was nice. Two weeks ago when the C's went up 2-0 against ATL we all deemed the series over. This time around we have no preconceptions. Ultimately, there is little more you could want from Boston through the first two games: they successfully stifled LeBron and the Cavs as well as you could. And being up two to zip gives you a heck of an edge. But after ATL an uneasiness remains. Cleveland is fully capable of winning the next two games, with LeBron putting up 35 a night. We all know this. But it seems double scary given the recent (an unprecedented) road woes of the Celtics.

Still, tonight felt promising. The cylinders are clicking, and the Cavs are so anemic offensively that you have to like the Celtics' odds going forward. The key, as always, will be to play suffocating D. Posey has probably been the second best player on the Green this series (KG has been phenomenal) with his kudzu D and panache for doing all the little things. I stand by my statement that he should be playing more than Ray (why is Allen still getting more minutes than anyone?) It's shocking to see LeBron struggle as he has; and as good as the defense has been, he's missing bunnies with regularity. It can't continue. Which is why a steady diet of Posey on LeBron is probably essential to a Game 3 victory.

If the Celtics can win Game 3 it will go a long way in eliminating the doubts that arose from ATL, because as you saw tonight, this team is just plain awesome from a talent standpoint. Posey, Powe and Cassell off the bench - that makes things much easier. The question is whether more funky badness will occur at a moment's notice. I don't know what to think about that, but at least the immediate situation looks cheery.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Count It

On the one hand, if someone had told me the Celtics would only win by four in a game that saw LeBron shoot 2-18 and turn the ball over 10 times, I would have thought to myself: "hmmm, they need to take things up a notch; there's no way they can count on that happening every game." On the other hand, were I a Cavs fan and someone had told me that Paul Pierce and Ray Allen would combine to score 4 points in a total of 66 minutes on the floor and the Celtics would still win by four, I would have thought to myself: :hmmm, they really need to take things up a notch; there's no way they can count on that happening every game."

A shitty opening, I know, but hey, this was kind of a shitty game. The Celtics stole away with a nailbiter of the more disappointing sort, a dysfunctional mistake-fest in which neither team shot even close to 50% from the floor nor seriously threatened the 80-point barrier. The less said about this one the better. Garnett, Rondo and the splendiferous James Posey were the primary bright spots for the C's, but in fairness KG more or less single-handedly kept them in this one with a monster 28-point effort. It was cool to see the Celtics finally win a true grind-it-out playoff contest, but honestly this game was so weird that it's hard to know what to make of it. Scratch that: one down, three to go. As far as right now is concerned, that's what to make of it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

An Inconclusive Happiness

The Celtics easily could have lost this game, but they won and I'm momentarily at peace. So it goes. It's hard to come up with much to say about a "feel each other out" contest which saw LeBron, PP, and Ray combine for all of 16 points. What can be definitely said is that tonight felt like the playoffs. The first round, despite its often carnival atmosphere, never did. And this had all the classic ugliness you would expect from these two teams in such a setting: the defense was sterling on both sides, and neither offense was ever able to get into a sustainable flow.

KG played great tonight, quietly pouring it in early in the game, and then stepping up down the stretch as we all hoped he would. That was encouraging. Paul just had an off night; his play wasn't as bad as his stat line, and there was no reason for Glenn to keep him out for as long as he did in the fourth quarter. Ray is another matter. He was scoreless, and seemingly did nothing of substantial use for the entire game. Obviously it was a personal nadir, but it sure seems to me that Rondo has taken over the role as being the real third guy on this team.

Ray's gradual fade (and he could go for 35 on Thursday, you never know) leaves us with a question for the rest of the series: should Posey be taking more of Ray's minutes? Pose certainly seems like the best option on James, and clearly nothing is more important than stopping the King. Tonight the C's were +17 with Posey on the floor, easily the highest mark for any player on either team. Glenn might be wise to stick with him till the final buzzer, unless Ray is just blistering out there.

But the story of the night, ultimately, has to be LeBron's inefficiency. If he has a semi-normal game the Cavs probably would have gone away victors. We are unlikely to see such a morose LeBron again. Luckily, it seems the C's might be able to combat that. All things considered, I still echo what Jack said earlier: I have no idea where this series is heading...

All This Useless Beauty

Seriously, what to make of it? Detroit looks focused and is up 2-0. New Orleans is looking to do what few thought they could and not only beat San Antonio but beat them resoundingly. The Lakers, meanwhile, are the Lakers, and the Celtics are who-fucking-knows what.

The Hornets' casual domination of the vaunted Spurs is probably the most interesting plot of the past 48 hours. You're going to hear a lot of noise about how the Spurs have never won a playoff series in which they were down 2-0, but that doesn't mean a whole lot since this is only the third time it's happened in the Duncan era. More crucial is the fact that they've been blown out in both contests and generally just don't look that good. Nobody has an answer for Chris Paul and my God, it's just fucking exquisite. Nobody gave the Hornets a chance in this series (check out the ESPN series page... bless you, Mr. Hollinger), and that's something of a minor outrage seeing that Nawlins played them even in the regular season and are currently the higher seed. Still, I turn on the television and hear a million and one talking heads wringing their hands and squealing that they can't believe the Spurs could lose this series, could they? Um, when you lose the first two games by 19 and 18 points, respectively, the answer to that question is: fuck yeah they could. Look, it would not entirely shock me if the Spurs came back to win this series; they have depth, experience, Tim Duncan, all that shit. But the fact is that the Hornets have them down 2-0 and are led by a point guard who's some sort of unspeakably beautiful miracle: it's time to start taking seriously the argument that it might not be the Spurs' year, and that there's nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.

It's worth noting again that the Pistons look fierce. Wouldn't want to play them in the next round, were I hypothetically the fan of a team for whom that was a possibility. Some wacky shit went down with the clock at the end of the 3rd quarter--seriously, can't the NBA have one postseason without some sort of scandalously terrible in-game fuck-up?--and the Magic clamored long and hard about it afterwards, but the fact is they would have lost the game regardless. A good "basketball tip" is that if you'd like to win a game, shoot better than 25% during the 4th quarter.

Bob Ryan has a mildly entertaining/irritatingly lazy puff piece on LeBron in today's Globe that generally reads like it was written five years ago. Peter May has some sort of cutesy series-preview feature that made me stupider just by reading it. Keep up the good work, sportswriters. Celtics-Cavs at 8 tonight on TNT. I have no idea what to expect. None whatsoever. It's time to rebuild the trust in this relationship.

We Are All Witnesses

Seriously, he's stretching our boundaries of hyperbole. Kobe's set to get the MVP tomorrow. Whatever you say.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Hard To Quantify, And Scary As Hell

There is a human element to professional basketball that is generally misapplied and given far too much credence. Fans, announcers, coaches, players - we all too easily fall into the trap of cliches by saying how one team "wanted it more" or how one team "mentally collapsed", or maybe how a player "inspired a team to victory". These everyday proverbs have bits of truth to them - but this is the NBA, and mental fortitude means little in comparison to talent level. When you get to the NBA mental fortitude is an ingrained talent, and it doesn't waver nearly as much as we think from game to game, preseason to postseason. Yes, pro basketball is an emotional sport - but emotions only take you so far, and most of the time you can analyze the game objectively without becoming overly melodramatic. In the long run the team that has better talent almost always wins. This is the pride and tradition of the NBA.

Yet exceptions to this general tenet rear their head most often in the playoffs, and they are real exceptions. It is at this juncture where statistics, almost always useful, stop having much meaning. It is where the great ones show their superiority over the very good ones, something that plain numbers cannot easily reveal. If the NBA has a mental component, we see it fully only in the Spring. And it always shows itself. Only the strong survive. But make no mistake - you have to be very good to even get in that position where mental strength really helps.

Which brings us back to the Celtics. While this mental superiority often splendidly exemplifies itself in May and June (think Duncan, Ginobili and Wade as recent pillars of higher virtue) there is also an exact opposite which surfaces: choking. Some excellent teams get tight and slightly unravel (think the Pistons the last few years),while some out-and-out choke(the 2000 Blazers). Judging from their queasy first round, it appears the C's could fall into either unfortunate category.

Or not. It is very hard to pinpoint how choking happens, and how it can be rectified. There are outright collapses like the Kings and Blazers had against the Lakers, but these are only egregious examples. And with each failure (which the Celtics had in Games 4 & 6) a higher immunity to the infliction might appear. Switching sports momentarily, let's think of Peyton Manning. Manning choked so many times early in his career that at this point he seems almost above it. Conversely clutch players like Tom Brady or Tim Duncan don't always seem impervious from letting nerves stand in their way.

So choking is a hard thing to put your finger on. We know KG has had a reputation for disappearing down the stretch, and he did little to disprove that in the first round. It is one thing to play well in a pressure game when you're up by 15, another when you're down by 4 on the road. Will he be able to step up the way Duncan, Kobe and LeBron have done in the past? It certainly does not seem beyond him, and it also may be unfair to lump all of the load on his shoulders.

Nonetheless, how the Celtics play under extreme pressure will be one of the main elements everybody will be examining from now on. The key, as it has been the whole season, will be the defensive intensity. If the Celtics can maintain their excellence on that end of the ball they should be playing into June. But as we saw in the last ten days, we can no longer safely assume that this will automatically happen.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

There's Nothing Left To Feel

The Celtics beat the Hawks by 34 points a few hours ago, slamming the door on a series in which, to borrow from Yeats, the best sometimes appeared to lack all conviction while the worst were full of passionate intensity. Seriously, if you're a Celtics fan who knows what to think of this team anymore? This afternoon they stunningly resembled the team who only two weeks ago were prohibitive favorites to win the title; two nights ago they looked an Antoine Walker away from 2005. As enjoyable as today was--and it was surprisingly enjoyable, far more so than I was expecting--there are still an ocean of question marks with this team that seems no less perilous with the LeBrons coming to town on Tuesday. One of these days the Celtics will lose a home game in the playoffs, which means that if they want their season to continue they'd best learn how to win a road game. Seems simple and straightforward enough, you'd think. Winning by 34 is fun (and it could have been more) but you're in a Game 7 against the fucking Atlanta Hawks, for Christ's sake; talk about your pyrrhic victories. Things need to change and change soon, and while it's tempting to look at today's game as evidence that things have finally gotten through to these guys, lord knows we've made that mistake before. The Celtics have arguably the deepest and most talented roster in the playoffs, and it's well past time that they consistently start to play that way.

But enough sturm und drang. The Celtics flat-out destroyed the Hawks today; it was an absolutely ruthless, dazzling performance. Much will be said and written about the C's domination, but I'd like to briefly point out the absolutely stunning degree to which the Hawks simply did not show up for this game. They were overmatched from the beginning and by the second quarter seemed to have visibly quit. If Mike Woodson had saved his job through the first six games of this series that position ought to be reconsidered, as his team appeared colossally unmotivated for the biggest game of their collective professional careers (not you, Bibby). Marvin Williams' absolutely atrocious, suspension-worthy takedown of Rondo even sapped dry their considerable lovable-underdog reserve; at the bitter end these guys came off as surly, self-absorbed and dislikable. The Celtics, on the other hand, played some of their best ball of the year: stifling defense, rock-solid contributions from the usual suspects excepting Ray Allen, who had another troubling night from the field (3-12 FG), and overall brilliant team basketball, unselfish and efficient with a surplus of heart. Probably the most pleasant surprise was Kendrick Perkins, who logged a double-double (10 and 10) and generally played like a grown-ass man.

Cleveland. LeBron. Tuesday. Make no mistake, this one's going to be a series. Hopefully in the next forty-eight hours I can convert my hesitation to excitement; in the meantime I just feel oddly glad to be here.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Oh My God

A week ago I was joking about panicking over losing to the Hawks. It wasn't a good joke. The Celtics probably will win on Sunday, but the magic of this season might have evaporated into the night air after this evening's game. I am bleary eyed and can only help but to be brief, but someone could easily write a tome about what has just occurred. Maybe then I could understand it. Safe to say, some (if not all) of our nightmares about this team have come into reality, and it would hurt more if it weren't all too absurd.

The Celtics choked tonight, plain and simple. As someone who usually waves off such talk as reactionary bullshit, you should know that I use the "c" word with discretion, and it definitely was appropriate for tonight. And in retrospect we now realize it was appropriate for Game 4 as well. We can complain about the officiating discrepancies and Glenn's end-of-game play calling, but we have to ultimately realize that the Celtics team we are seeing is nothing like the one of the regular season. At least on the road. And that is major, major cause for concern. Who is going to presently pick the Celtics to beat San Antonio? Or Detroit for that matter? Or maybe even Cleveland?

Yes, it's all up in the air after these three road losses to Atlanta. The more widespread implications, for both the future and the historical record, will have to be talked about at a later date. But the reality of tonight was that James Posey was the Celtics' best player in the fourth quarter. KG disappeared, as he infamously has been known to do. Ray Allen was shot happy - and not very accurate or intelligent. Paul Pierce was helplessly on the bench, probably the one antidote for the C's troubles, but unable to play. Rondo was ineffective; and Cassell too unsure of his role in the situation to take over....yeah, I don't want to go on.

It'd be nice to say these shortcomings can be fixed. And it's possible they will. But it is also exceedingly possible that this team is not ready to be a champion. As bad as the fourth quarter was, the Celtics should have been able to put the Hawks away earlier, like Cleveland and Detroit were just able to do against inferior teams. But Boston failed. It is something we did not see at all during the regular season. But we are seeing it now; and these playoffs are turning into a surreal finale to an unbelievable past year in Celtics history.