For the third straight season, the Detroit Pistons will not advance to the NBA Finals. And, though I am a Celtics fan, this truth is a result not of Boston’s strength, but of Detroit’s weaknesses. That assertion sounds crazy, I know. The Pistons have become, along with the Spurs, the league’s standard for consistency since the 2001-02 season, never winning less than 50 games since. In each of those trips to the playoffs, they have advanced past the first round. Their current series is their sixth straight Eastern Conference Finals. In 2004, the team upset the heavily-favored, star-laden Lakers to win the championship. Despite their experience, history of success, winning mentality, clutch players, and toughness, however, the 2008 version of the Detroit Pistons is not presently constituted to win a championship.
That first paragraph may strike you as ridiculous and unfounded. But I’m about to top the whole thing in one sentence. Ready?
The Pistons’ defense isn’t good enough to win this series.
Before you refer me to a psychiatrist, hear me out. As great as Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton are with a lead in a close game, the duo cannot consistently match baskets with another team’s go-to guy in the final minutes of a game, especially when trailing. And if you think the Piston’s stellar defense can make up for that weakness, you’re wrong. Since beating the Lakers in 2004, Detroit’s playoff history has been the history of opposing stars out-performing the Pistons in crunchtime. Continue reading
For the first eleven years of my life, the Celtics were a joke. A perennial loser, the franchise was still crushed from the Len Bias and Reggie Lewis tragedies–two events that I was too young to remember. Cheapskate Owner Paul Gaston ignored the fans, Coach Rick Pitino ran the team into the ground, and promising young forward Antoine Walker cared more about wiggling than winning. The proudest franchise in the NBA was being destroyed.
Then Paul Pierce changed everything. In the 2001-’02 season, Pierce became one of the League’s brightest stars and most clutch performers. He transformed the Celtics into a scrappy team with a penchant for big comebacks. In the fourth quarter in a game against the Pacers, he and Antoine began holding up the Pacers’ lead on their fingers, counting it down with every bucket until they were ahead. The Celtics were the ultimate never-say-die team led by the ultimate never-say-die player. Continue reading
Nastiness and killer instinct. Say what you want about coaching, playoff experience, Lebron. The reasons the Celtics are where they are right now, losers of five (going on six) straight road games, all but two of the defeats close, are as simple as nastiness and killer instinct. The Celtics lack both. And there’s only one player in the history of the NBA who could solve both problems. His name is Reggie Miller.
You see, I remember Michael Jordan winning his last championship. I remember him pushing Byron Russell to the floor and rising up. I remember the ball falling through the net. I remember John Stockton missing the three at the other end. I remember Bob Costas saying, “If that’s the last image of Michael Jordan, how magnificent is it?” And I remember thinking, if that’s the last image of Michael Jordan, who was my hero now?
And I remember then thinking about Reggie Miller. I remember that I thought of Game 4 of the Easter Conference Finals. I thought of Reggie pushing off Jordan, catching the inbounds, and spinning to the basket. I thought of the shot slapping the back of the net and Reggie jumping in circles. I practiced that shot for hours on end. Then I realized who my new hero was. Continue reading
During the regular season, the Boston Celtics went 31-10 on the road, the best away record in the league. During the postseason, the Celtics are 0-4 on the road. Perhaps the losing wasn’t as troubling in the first round, when none of the Celtics’ away games were lost by double digits. But then the team lost by 24 points to Cleveland in Game 3. To put that in perspective, the Celtics lost by more than ten points in just two games during the regular season. Obviously, the Celtics need some mental toughness and they need it fast.
But, wait, this is 2008. Professional athletes aren’t pushed, they are pampered. So instead of getting chewed out and shamed, the Celtics are getting comforted. Dan Shaughnessy wrote in today’s Boston Globe that Celtics management is going to every extreme to make the next away game feel like a home game for the losers of four straight road games. The link to the article is http://www.boston.com/sports/basketball/celtics/articles/2008/05/12/home_cooking_up/ Continue reading
— Melvin Ely is one of the most valuable players in the NBA right now. He has career averages of 5.8 points per game and 3.8 rebounds per game. This season he averaged 3.9 points and 2.8 rebounds. Last season, Ely played in only six games for his new team after a mid-season trade. So why is he one of the keys to the Hornets advancing? Because last season he spent half a season on, and those six games playing for, the San Antonio Spurs. Continue reading
Last night I was able to catch the end of the Magic-Pistons game. Some thoughts:
–How many games have the Pistons won in the last five years with clutch free throws? They’re one of the only teams that, when they have a two possession lead with anywhere under two minutes, make you feel like changing the channel because the game’s over. Look at the free throw scoring and free throw shooting of Billups and Hamilton in 82games.com’s “clutch” statistics from this season. These are measured when in the fourth quarter or overtime with less than five minutes less and neither team is ahead by more than 5 points.
When a fan’s team is in the playoffs, he or she builds a list of reasons for hating the other team. It’s an organic catalog that starts with stereotypes about the other team’s city (ex: Detroit‘s a run-down city) and ends with the annoying and meaningless physical features of the opposing players (ex: Rasheed Wallace’s freaking bald spot). Boston fans, groomed in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, are naturals at assembling ordered and ranked excuses to hate the other team.
But for the first round of the playoffs this year, I didn’t put much time into a hate hierarchy. Not a single analyst I heard predicted the Hawks hanging with the Celtics for more than five games. I thought it would be a clean sweep. Why waste energy hating Atlanta when the Celtics are facing so much more compelling teams in later rounds?
Then the Hawks won two games and I suddenly needed a list. Easy, right? Wrong.
For the first time in recent memory, I could not make myself hate the opponent. In truth, I fell for the Hawks.
This is not to say my love of the Celtics is in jeopardy. To put my feelings in context, it’s as if someone is married to his wife (the Celtics) and loves her very much, but still finds a young, hot actress (the Hawks) attractive. After Game 4, the Hawks were my metaphorical Jessica Alba. Continue reading