May 25, 2008
Celtics Doing What Patriots Could Not
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Tom Brady was at Game 2 the other night at TD Banknorth Garden. It would have been nice if Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen and Nick Kaczur had been at Game 3.
The best thing that could have happened to the Celtics was Game 2. The Detroit Pistons came into Boston and handed the men in green their first home loss of the playoffs, winning 103-96 and making it look relatively easy. It took away the home court advantage the Celtics had had all throughout the Atlanta and Cleveland series, but it gave the Celtics the one thing that had been missing from their entire postseason: urgency.
Without it, the Celtics lost six road playoff games they really didn't need to win. With it, going into the Palace of Auburn Hills Saturday night tied at one win apiece instead of up 2-0 in games, the Celtics suddenly won their first road playoff game of 2008, and won it going away. The 94-80 final does not suggest how much the Celtics dominated the Pistons; the Celtics at one point had a 24-point lead in the third quarter and somehow survived a smothering 1-2-2 press defense to hold on in the end.
What the Celtics finally did in a road playoff game was to bring the necessary intensity to the table, and the result was a resounding win on a very hostile road court. The Celtics had literally no incentive to try hard against Atlanta, and the 2-0 lead against Cleveland in the second round gave the Celtics a smug feeling of security. By losing Game 2 at home to Detroit, it forced the Celtics to have to win a road playoff game somewhere along the line to keep their championship dreams alive. Fortunately, that road win came sooner rather than later.
The complexion of this NBA East Finals series has now completely changed. Now, most experts think the Celtics can also win Game 4 and thus wrap up the series at home in Game 5 on Wednesday. But even if Detroit wins Game 4, the Celtics have two of the final three at home, and are in great shape to make it to their first NBA Finals in 21 years.
Now, if you happened to watch all of the six previous road losses, you might agree that all of those six games were Super Bowl XLII, basketball style.
The Celtics built their league-best 66-16 regular season record on superior team play, aggressive defense and Paul Pierce not needing to be the hero every night. The Celtics were 31-10 on the road, perfectly capable of winning in places like Philips Arena and Quicken Loans Arena. But in those six losses, the Celtics looked completely unlike the team which blitzed through the regular season with their best showing since their last NBA title in 1986.
Just like in the Super Bowl, where the 18-0 Patriots were supposed to have their way with the Giants, only to suffer one of the most shocking upsets in the 42-year history of the game.
Just like the Celtics brought little or no intensity to those six playoff games, the Patriots also brought very little intensity to not only the Super Bowl, but you could also say that the AFC Championship Game was also in that category. The Patriots peaked in intensity with the Jacksonville playoff win, but went on a downslide after that and it cost them a very special place in history.
The Jaguars pushed the Patriots to the limit in the Divisional Round, and they won only because Brady played one of the more perfect playoff games in NFL history and Laurence Maroney was ready to carve up a tired Jaguar defense in the second half. The Patriots then got a "break" by not having to play Indianapolis in the conference final, instead going up against the team that beat them, the San Diego Chargers.
That "break", combined with the fact that New England had beaten San Diego in Week 2, 38-14, and combined with the fact that Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson were all injured and would not contribute to the best of their abilities, seemed to foretell a Patriot rout. Instead, the Patriots won by only nine points to advance to the Super Bowl, with Brady throwing three interceptions in the game. The Patriots were easily able to keep the offensively-challenged Chargers out of the end zone, and the final step to the Super Bowl turned out to be relatively easy despite being able to put only 21 points on the board at home.
They went to Arizona to play the Giants, whom they had beaten at Exit 16-W on December 29, 38-35 to complete the 16-0 regular season. The Patriots faced a familiar opponent, knew them well, were heavily favored, and were supremely confident. The Patriots may have also thought that they got another "break" by not having to face Brett Favre and the Packers, as the Giants knocked them off at Lambeau in overtime to make it to the Super Bowl.
The Patriots therefore came out and played like a team that didn't feel enough urgency to win the Super Bowl, despite the 19-0 record on the line. SpyGate was a distraction, but this is a team which usually lets stuff like this go in one ear and out the other. There were also reports surfacing that week where newspapers from both Boston and New York had begun printing victory editions, as well as commemorative coffee table books.
But what no one has talked much about was a curious development the day before the Super Bowl. It was learned that Bill Belichick cancelled the final walk-throughs on Saturday (in case someone from the Giants was videotaping it?). Belichick declared his team ready to play the Super Bowl and didn't feel his team needed that final rehearsal the day before. When the head coach is this relaxed and confident, especially given his penchant for his meticulous attention to all sorts of minutiae, you could very well say that the Patriots were in no position to match the furious onslaught the Giants were about to lay on them the next day.
The result was thus predictable. The Giants pummeled the Patriots all game long, and had just enough to barely outscore them in the end and win the game. The Giants took the game to the Patriots up until the drive where Brady led them on their final touchdown drive, as the Giant defense was gassed by then. But uncharacteristic Patriot defensive breakdowns allowed the Giants to prevail in the end. The Giants brought more energy and intensity to the table, and in the end it cost the Patriots their perfect 19-0 season.
Fortunately for the Celtics, they now know what they have to do to at least make it to the finals. Sometimes Doc Rivers comes off as confident as Belichick did on Super Bowl eve when you wish Rivers would at least show some concern, but in the end Rivers knows exactly what is going on and why there is no reason for him to panic at the moment. Like Belichick has with Brady, Rivers has a peer policeman named Kevin Garnett who keeps the team in line, and who helps Pierce be Pierce. Rivers has all he needs to win the NBA championship, just like Belichick had everything to win the Super Bowl.
Now, what Rivers needs to do is to play the Celtics a DVD of Super Bowl XLII. This is what happens to great teams when they don't play with intensity, he will say. Garnett, Pierce and all the gang will watch and listen, and then go out and do what they do.
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