Saturday, May 31, 2008
And Here Come the Celtics!
The fact that the Celtics beat the Pistons in six is entirely more surprising than the fact that they could not beat the Cavaliers or Hawks away or in less than seven games. The fact that they won twice on the road in Detroit is less surprising than their inability to put up their best games against lesser opponents. The fact that the Celtics were only a good team when they had to be or that Ray Allen only stepped up when he faced supreme competition is not surprising.
I lived with football players throughout high school. We attended a military academy together, lived in the same rooms and I was the only swimmer. Aside from our difference in sport choice and music tastes (I got enough Korn to feed Kenya), we were mostly friends. On Sundays, a bunch of the nonletes (swimmers, cross-country peoples, etc.-- you know, non-football guys) would get together and play touch football when the weather was nice. These were my favorite games because I was always able to hold my own.
When the football players heard about the game, they began to flood the fields. They convinced us to switch to tackle and the most incredible thing happened. They played horribly. They realized that it was too easy. They weren't cocky. Things came too easily. They won every time they flooded the fields but not convincingly.
The same was true when I raced people in practice. The Freshmen and Sophomores got chances against us at the end of practices and I routinely lost. Pretty much 60 percent of the time. I didn't care about them beating me-- all the bragging rights and glory came when we raced each other in meets. I slaughtered the younger swimmers and did exceedingly well in our division. It didn't matter in practice. It only mattered in crunch-time.
The Celtics cockiness and swagger depended solely on crowd support and necessity when they played the first two series-- the Cavs and Hawks were not worth their time as compared with the singular goal of beating the Pistons. For the first time in the playoffs, the Celtics were not the best team on the floor-- game two proved this. So, in games three through six, they played with a sense of urgency (except game five, what a shitty game all the way around). They played as if they had to win and they won.
The Cavs and Hawks didn't really roll over, they just got beat by a better team. Aside from the inexpilcable second half involving Theo Ratliff playing over Jason Maxiell in game four, the Pistons had a more talented team on the floor at any given moment. It's just that, this time, the Celtics knew it. When the Cavs and Hawks beat them, it seemed like an aberration. When the Pistons beat them, it was a serious challenge.
When I got beat in practice, it was fodder for the showers. When I caught a pass over my roommate, it was worth a little trash-talk back in the barracks. When I went to see him play and he shed blocks for a sack, I knew my place. When I won relays for our team, my teammates knew what the captain on the back of my jersey meant. When the Celtics lost game two, they formed togwether and played two nearly perfect games on the road. They rose to a challenge and put the Pistons in their place-- the third best team in a supremely talented league (this year especially-- and, yes, that means i would have picked the Pistons over the Spurs).
Now, the Celtics meet the exact same task in the Finals. Beat a team that is more talented. Win despite not being the best team on the floor. They'll have to rely on the fact that they haven't failed a challenge yet. We shall see.
Birthed from the mind of Jeff Laughlin at 4:24 PM