Todd: Try and look at the bright side, Celtics fans. Boston might have been swept by LA if Koman Coulibaly was an NBA official, and adding injury to our angst would be trying to determine what fouls were called.
Sorry folks, trying my best to add some levity around these parts.
I know we’re all a bit glum after watching the Celtics come sooooo close to hanging an 18th championship banner in the rafters, and yet as tough as it was in the moment to watch the Lakers raising their arms in exultation, it doesn’t seem quite as bad now that some time has passed (maybe that’s also because I opted not to watch the LA victory parade).
Believe me, watching the C’s head out to the West Coast last week with two chances to win one more game and then coming home empty-handed is disappointing and painful on a sports fans’ level, in particular in the decisive seventh game.
Rebounding proved to be the determining factor, as Boston won games when they had the edge on the boards and lost when they didn’t. In that regard, the loss of Kendrick Perkins in Game 7 (oddly enough not to a technical foul-induced suspension but to injury) was significant in a game where LA had a 53-40 advantage on the glass, 23-8 on the offensive end.
Even when the Celtics took a 13-point lead early in the second half and were playing some of the best defense I’ve seen them play all season, it was hard to totally relax when an LA offensive rebound often extended 24-second possessions which took a toll and eventually wore the C’s down.
How else to explain the Lakers scoring 30 points in the fourth quarter on that defense? How else to explain many Celtics missing open jump shots? How else to explain the loathsome Ron Artest being the true X-factor in the entire series (guess we missed that in our series preview column)? I guess explaining the existence of wormholes in space would be simpler than trying to predict that the enigmatic nut would totally dominate in the biggest game of the season.
Watching that fourth quarter was akin to watching a NASCAR race where the lead driver gambles to not make a final pit stop because they have enough gas left in their tank. Doc Rivers rode his stars right down to the last drop of fuel, and that’s why it’s hard for me to be angry or upset about this defeat; although it did irk me some that the C’s finally started making their three-point shots in the closing seconds instead of earlier when they had the lead.
As hard as it was to watch Kobe, Gasol et al holding that Larry O’Brien trophy and the Lakers franchise closing to within one title of the Celtics, and as much as it pains me to say it, LA defended better than I’ve ever seen and deserved to repeat as champions.
Even to realize this could be the end of the line for Doc and a few of the players (I’ll miss you Rasheed…not!), I’m still not bitter because—and I know this sounds cliché—the C’s gave as much as they could for 48 minutes and left it all out on the hardwood.
Pride has always been a word synonymous with the Celtics, the term perhaps meaning even more in defeat than in victory.
The last two months have been an incredible ride for a team that many of us gave little chance to compete for a championship, and that is what I’ll try to remember most about these Celtics.
Now let a very interesting offseason begin. Danny Ainge will certainly earn his pay this summer.
Moving on to the 2010 World Cup and the aforementioned Mr. Koulibaly, at least he has been banned from working any more games. But how can he or FIFA not offer a single explanation as to what was called in the closing minutes of Team USA’s draw vs. Slovenia that disallowed a potential game-winning goal?
Aside from that minor nuisance(!), it’s hard not to like the quadrennial soccer tournament…especially if you love vuvuzelas. At least now I know what those plastic horns are actually called!
All kidding aside, the one ideal aspect of the World Cup is that runs from mid-June to mid-July when MLB is the only major American sports league on the calendar. In particular this year, it perfectly fills the sports-viewing hole left behind by the NBA Finals and will eventually be replaced by the start of NFL training camp.
How about some baseball talk? While we all focused our time following the Celtics, we paid no attention to the team behind the curtain. The Red Sox have very quietly been playing .750 ball over the last month (24 wins in their 32 games as they head out west this week), thanks in part to an 8-1 homestand against three National League clubs (including the overhyped return of Manny Ramirez to Fenway). Terry Francona’s boys actually have one of the best all-time records against the NL, so I say let’s hear it for interleague baseball. As long as they keep playing like this, I have no problems with it.
Amazing they have played like this when their starting outfield consists of the three guys that—at best—would have been rated fifth, sixth and seventh on the depth chart to start the season. Seriously, who in the name of Daniel Nava are these guys? Speaking of Nava, the guy has a cup of coffee with the Sea Dogs last year and all he does in his big league debut is something that’s only been done one other time in the history of baseball (hit the first pitch for a grand slam). If you haven’t read the rest of Nava’s story to the big leagues, think of the movie ‘Rudy’ and substitute the Red Sox for Notre Dame football.
The reason the Sox have not only been able to survive but prosper with the likes of Lucy, Violet and Frieda patrolling the outfield has been the pitching, which is what we thought it would be all about when the club headed north from Fort Myers. Some of the numbers:
Since May 17, when the Sox fell to 19-20 and were 8 ½ games behind then first place Tampa Bay, their starting pitchers have compiled a 21-6 record with a 3.18 ERA (over the first six weeks of the season the ERA for the same group was nearly two runs higher). A large part of the credit for this goes to Francona’s version of the ‘Big Three’—Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey—who were a combined 26-9 heading into this week’s road trip.
But it hasn’t just been the pitching. How about the bats of David Ortiz (AL Player of the Month in May), Adrian Beltre (4th in AL in batting average) and Victor Martinez (hitting .378 since May 17)? If you can believe it, Boston has actually scored the most runs in the major leagues. Can it last? Only time will tell.
One final quick baseball observation that we overlooked in the last few weeks due to all the Celtics talk: as frustrating as it was to see Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga lose his perfect game last month, the way both he and Jim Joyce (the umpire who made the wrong call on what would have been the final out) comported themselves in the days following the game should be a lesson in sportsmanship that all parents should teach to their kids.
Mike: First things first, it appears that US soccer fans will have more chances to cheer for their team as the US advanced to the knockout round of the World Cup with a thrilling 1-0 extra time win over Algeria on Wednesday.
Good for the US, it’s nice to see the national team make some noise on the big stage. I’m not going to foolishly predict a World Cup win this year, but mark my words, that’s coming. The US is slowly catching up to the rest of the world, and I think that could lead to what was once unthinkable, a US World Cup win.
Hey, it’s not that crazy, think of how far the US was ahead of the rest of the world in Olympic basketball with the introduction of the original (and in my opinion ONLY) Dream Team in 1992. Back then, it was unthinkable that the world could even give the US a competitive game, and know the world has caught up to a degree. I’m just saying that could happen in soccer as well.
As for the Celtics, it was so frustrating to watch them blow that lead in Game 7. But you could see the team running out of gas even while they still had the lead. When the Lakers went ahead, I had a sinking feeling it was all over, and unfortunately I was proven right.
As for the future of the Celtics, I think they need to get younger. KG, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are still viable players in the league, but age can and will start to catch up to them. Allen is a free agent, and I can’t see the Celtics spending big bucks to bring him back. Which to me, means he’s as good as gone, because I can see some team grabbing him for more than the Celts want to pay.
As for Pierce, it’s no secret that he drives me nuts. He’s a good player, but he has the tendency to try and do it all himself, which leads to bonehead plays and horrible shots. He has an opt-out of his contract this spring, if he takes it, I’d like to see the Celtics try and use that money on a younger player and start building around Rondo, who really came into his own this season.
As for the Red Sox, I’m glad to see they have finally gotten over their horrible start and moved back into contention. And what’s really heartening is that they have done it with a big chunk of their starters sitting on the disabled list (kudos to you Todd for the Lucy, Violet and Frieda line, a good “Peanuts” reference is always welcome).
Once players like Beckett and Ellsbury work their way back into the lineup, the Sox will be poised to make a run this summer. This has all the makings of a classic pennant race, I’m really looking forward to it!
Mike Higgins and Todd Bloniarz have been observing Boston sports all of their lives. In their professional lives, Mike is the sports editor for Current Publishing and Todd has called and covered games for various outlets ranging from high school, college and even the Boston Red Sox for one memorable inning on NESN.