The Celtics have become the focus of the sport news media and its equivalent of Road Rage. It seems, the fact that the Celtics haven't won on the road yet, has a lot of the sports media elite questioning the Celtics caliber and pedigree. A recent web article suggested that these Celtics are not champions or even championship material. It suggested they were pretenders to the throne so to speak. The word is that they talk the talk but can't walk the walk.
The hysteria surrounding reports that they haven't won a road game is being trumpeted as some kind of harbinger of doom for them. A suddenly obvious and inexplicable flaw that threatens the successful completion of their quest for the 17th championship banner has been revealed. It is casting an ominous shadow over what has been a stellar year so far.
Fair-weather fans are taking flight. You can feel the bandwagon getting lighter. "I told you so" is the theme at the water cooler. The naysayer and the early doubters are suddenly proclaiming for all to hear how they knew this would happen. The Celtics aren't as good as they think they are. They can't win on the road. Conventional wisdom dictates and history shows you can't win a title if you can't win on the road
How much proof do we need? It's like the Atlanta series all over again. By failing to win game six in Cleveland they now face the Cavaliers in another 7th game showdown in Boston. This was not supposed to happen again was it? The Best-Record-in-the-NBA Celtics are tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers at 3-3 in the second round. The people in the know are confused. How long the series would go was anyone's guess. The Celtics in 5 games was reasonable; Six at the max. No way would it go 7. That 7 game series with Atlanta was a fluke... weird series. Game 6 in Cleveland was going to end that streak of losses. The odds were in their favor.
They gave another strong defensive effort and led early. Small surges have been the hallmark of this series as far as scoring for both teams. Leads of 8 to12 points are the best a team could earn. The game was always within grasp... just out of reach. The Celtics had a bad stretch late in a close game against a good team and a great player. It was a good comeback effort that came up short... helped in no small way by a seriously bad call.
The games have been close for the most part. There has been a lot of tough defense on both sides. The offense suffers a little when you play defense seriously. Playing real defense can get you get tired too early. Both teams and their stars are below average in their offensive performance for long stretches. When I see KG the first thing I want to say is "Hey, calm down man. You are going to hurt yourself someday slamming your chest and yelling so hard. The Celtics almost need to relax when it comes to how hard they're focusing on defense. Don't over commit so much that you wind up having to put a lot of pressure and energy into recovering.
Stop worrying about Lebron James so much. If he gets 30 or 40 points.... so what? That's what you allow for. You don't stop him as much as he has bad nights. Cover him as best as you can and let him go. It's the rest of the team you have to cover. It isn't King James that has won 3 games in this series... it was the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics may have been the favorite but that's no guarantee of victory. The Celtics may very well lose. But they will have no reason to hang their heads.
There are endless reasons that the best team doesn't make the finals or loses to a lesser rated opponent. Events can conspire against a team. Injuries, shooting slumps, the lighting, fireworks smoke in your eyes... slippery floors. Cleveland went to the Finals last year. Losing to them is not some professional shame we would need to live down. A bad pass, a worse call. Anyone can catch a cold or flu that gives you lead-legs.
Another factor is the pathetic level in the quality of the refereeing. There have been some pretty lousy performances by the referees. And I don't mean just with foul calls.
The refereeing in playoffs is overtly biased towards the home team. The disparity between the types of calls that stars get as compared to the rest of the team is blatantly obvious. Home team players can run a 5 yard pattern before referees finally call traveling. There's one move that's classic traveling yet is never called. It resembles a child doing a hopscotch move. A step, a skip, a hop and land on both feet spread and then go up... Man I need a cab to travel that far!
The Celtics that took the floor on opening day were in many ways the equivalent of an NBA expansion team starting its first season; all pros, a few friends and lots of new guys playing as a team together for the first time. They were a newly assembled team with no past experience or history to compare or evaluate and gauge their potential. Pierce, Garnett and Allen had all the skills. The question wasn't if they could... it centered on if they would. They looked like winners on paper... but we all know how that myth goes.
Except in this case it wasn't a myth. The Celtics have exceeded all expectations all season long. Suddenly they were expected to win it all. Their record said it all. Until the playoffs started and the road losses pile up. Now the numbers say otherwise. The stats say they're having trouble. But I don't think the stats we're seeing mean a whole lot.
Sure, the Celtics haven't won on the road. But it doesn't mean anything is wrong with the Celtics. It isn't a negative indictment of their talent, ability and commitment. It's a reflection of the impact and change that is part of the playoffs. Playoff basketball is a horse of a different color. The games are harder, the teams are more talented, and the refs are always home team guys. The Celtics are playing the Defending Eastern Conference Champions. Anyone who thought this would be a 5 game series was dreaming. I hoped for six and they came close. A 7th game at home is as good as sports games get. Any sport.
As far as not winning a road game the Celtics are in good company. During this years playoffs the home team has won 21 of 22 home games. How does that happen? The odds are against that kind of thing. Since 1984, home teams have won at a rate of 66.4 percent of playoff games. This year the rate is about 96%, home teams are 21 - 1. I'm not much for conspiracy theories but those are the kind of numbers that get them started.
The Celtics are 7-0 at home and 5-0 on the road. That's kind of a half-empty, half full statistic. It's how you look at it. Fortunately, the Celtics are on the plus side of that stat so far. They might even be the cause of the spike. An incredible year has raised the level of our expectations to one on the edge of unrealistic. I would love to see them win it all... what fan wouldn't. But I would never be so bogus that I would expect it. That's a height of arrogance I can't climb to.
So, before we know how the game ends, I want to say thanks to the Celtics for a great season. I wish them well but will still be a fan if they come up short. I would advise the team don't take it so seriously that you don't have as much fun playing the game as I do watching.
Thank you, Celtics!
However the series ends tomorrow, you have delivered more than we had right to expect and everything you promised through your effort. It has been an unbelievable and thrilling run for a first year team.
For a lifelong fan it's been a season for a lifetime. Whatever expectations I had at the start have been surpassed beyond my wildest dreams. The Celtics performed better than anyone had considered likely all year... maybe too well. Suddenly the Celtics are being portrayed as a team that isn't living up to expectations. Going into the playoffs the Celtics were the favorites. Suddenly everyone's checking their bets. We are suddenly so good that, after only being together as a team for less than 10 months, if we do not win the finals, let alone get there, we will be seen as coming up short of expectations. Short of accomplishments that, 10 months ago, most of the sports world would never have imagined or predicated. The Celtics are doing great by any measure. If any one says they predicted the success from day one they're telling fish tales.
Celtics have already won all they needed to convince me they are a hell of a team. What they accomplished has been nothing less than record breaking this year. Next year is almost certain to be just as promising. They are serious contenders with a good three season window of opportunity to win it all. I wasn't expecting it this year... this soon.
I'm going to be enjoying some high quality basketball games for a few years coming and I see no problem with that. It will be a long, long time before the word "losers" will be applied to the Boston Celtics by anyone other than the most rabid rival sports fanatic. They will be competing at a high level and keeping the fan hopes for a title alive for the next few seasons. And that's what it's all about in the end. It's the game, not the prize we live for. They have won what is more important to a team than any banner... the hearts of their fans.