A Daily Babble Production
It's two o'clock in the morning in the heartland. I've spent the last hour trying to morph into some sort of coherent state for viable basketball commentary.
But the fact that I can't stop shaking seems to be preempting those efforts.
Yes, we're still ten hours (and -- hopefully -- some sleep) away from the first tip-off, and we're seven games and nearly two full days away from the tip-off that means well more than all the others.
But it doesn't matter.
It began building when the regular season officially concluded and the playoffs schedules were handed out late Wednesday night into Thursday morning, and with inside of ten hours to wait, the preliminary stages seem to have culminated: The 2008 NBA playoffs have officially taken hold of me, and I couldn't be happier.
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There has been a lot of chatter among both media and fans alike over the last few seasons about the length of the NBA postseason. Based on very unscientific observation, it certainly appears as though the consensus is that the playoffs are too long. That the first round is too long, that there are too many rounds, that there are too many days between games, that it drags on forever. The list goes on.
You'll find none of that here.
If I have one complaint about the NBA playoffs, it's that they always seem to end too soon for my liking. No matter how enjoyable the Finals are, I invariably wind up bummed out at the end of the night of the last game: No more basketballBut we don't bring that feeling up to mourn over it right now. Rather, it's a testament to the incredible joy that these two upcoming months tend to elicit from me. There isn't a time of the sports year that I cherish more.
Nationally televised NBA basketball every night -- and thus, heightened national attention for the game. Players seeming for the most part to actually care on a night-to-night basis. One conference where it is not only conceivable that any team could beat any other but actually easy to envision it happening. Two to three games per night of the best pro basketball around.
The players. Stars going at it on the biggest of stages -- Kobe, LeBron, Duncan, Shaq, Ginobili, Stoudemire Nash, Melo, AI, McGrady, Nowitzki, Arenas, Garnett, just to name a few. Young studs forging their own legacies in the limelight, some still in their maiden playoff experience, some having already blossomed into postseason stardom -- Paul, West, Williams, Howard, Bosh, Boozer, and the immortal Powe. Cagey veteran faces getting more shots in new places -- Kidd, Cassell, Gasol. The player that...
The teams. The upstarts that stunned everyone -- Philadelphia and New Orleans. The team looking for redemption and ready to kill -- Dallas. The team that won 50 games and just squeaked into the picture -- Denver. The team that has wowed everybody for the last decade with its brutal efficiency -- San Antonio. The team that remade itself for the purpose of beating the proceeding team -- Phoenix. The team that...
The lists go on. The point should be evident by now: It's all there. The plots are there. The subplots are there. The high-quality basketball. The readily accessible basketball. The part where NBA ball finally gets to be first on nearly everyone's radar for a while. The players doing everything they must in order to win. The emotion. The passion. All of it comes out with the playoffs.
And that's all every year. That's what gets me excited about the postseason on an annual basis.
But what has pushed me from "healthy playoff excitement" to "shaking to the core right now" has little to do with the story-lines surrounding the other fifteen teams in this year's tournament.
Because, as the dedicated faithful of this site is quite well aware, once all is said and done, it will be one team who matters more than all others.
It will also be one team that wins its final playoff game and everyone else who goes home a runner-up of some sort.
For the first time in what seems like forever, my team -- no, our team -- has the potential to be that team.
I'm shaking with excitement because I know the intensity that this team -- and by extension, this wonderful fan base -- carried for 82 games this season. Because I know that I went through the same routine for each game I watched -- standing all game, jumping around, high-fiving walls, screaming at my television, politely discussing basketball stratagem with my television, waving my arms to pump up the imaginary crowd in my living room after huge plays, the whole deal. I'm shaking now because I'm thinking about how, yes, we're actually going to ratchet that up for the next two months -- or as far through those two months as the Celtics can go. How I'm going to be cranking the music up loud before every playoff game, how I'm going to be completely and utterly locked in throughout, how everybody in my zip code will be able to hear my vocalizations throughout this series. How I'm probably going to have too much energy to stay still on two feet for more than five seconds at a time of any playoff game.
I'm shaking with excitement because I know that for as much as this team often runs my life on a day-to-day basis throughout the year, it is going to absolutely consume me for this run. Yeah, yeah, I know. We're talking about fifteen guys and a coaching staff whom I don't know personally and likely never will. We're talking about something completely out of my control. The head-over-heels love for them is completely irrational. Uh-huh. Yep. Heard it all before. And still not changing one bit. Because fan is short for fanatic, and I'm proud to be one. It's worth noting, of course, that you don't have to be consumed by a team to be a fan -- there is no tone of condescension about my personal 'commitment level' or any of that nonsense here, as we are all fans, no matter what our practices may be -- but I don't have to be rational about it either. Nor will I be.
I'm shaking with excitement because of the ride this team has given us this year. Because no matter what happens in these playoffs -- whether the run lasts one measly series or caps off with our boys being the last ones standing -- nothing can take away what we all have shared this season. The joy of following this team on a night-in, night-out basis...wow. It's no surprise that the season flew by with more rapidity than any I can remember. The feeling this team has given us all year has been one of pure exuberance. The blowout wins, the come-from-behind wins, the defense, the chemistry, the hustle and so much more; the factors came together perfectly for a dream season. While anything less than a championship would be devastating moving forward, it wouldn't wipe out the wonderful memories of this 2007-08 regular season.
And, if you'll excuse me for taking some space to be particularly personal, I'm shaking with excitement because I'm thinking about it how much it means to me to get to share this experience with the man some call The Guru, some call Whitey, a very few seem to insist on calling Howie and most call Howard -- the man I still address with the combination of three simple letters: Dad. It's still Dad whom I call after every game I watch all season and Dad who will be the one who spends hours on the phone breaking down every playoff game with me. I'm shaking because I'm looking forward to the four more calls I'll have to make between now and the start of Game 1 to remind him of the game time and television channel. I'm shaking because I'm looking forward to that call after the first playoff game in three years -- and I'm thinking that there is a legitimate chance for both of us to be a lot happier than we were in our last discussion after a Celts playoff game, a forgettable Game 7 pummeling at the hands of the Pacers. I'm jittery because I'm thinking about what it's going to mean when my trip back to The State later this spring coincides with the latter portion of the playoffs, so that I can be there in person for us to share this run together -- if it's still going. If not, well, we'll still have quite a bit about which to commiserate.
And while I don't purport to look too far ahead, I would be lying if I said I wasn't shaking with excitement about one other point regarding The Guru. With the occurrence of a seminal moment in my life some years ago, The Guru promised our attendance at two future sporting events of my choosing. Since that time, one of those offers has been used. But on the night he made this promise, I also made one right back: "We are going to be there the next time the Celtics are playing at home in the Finals." Times weren't exactly the best for the Celts at that point (in fact, they were downright putrid). Ever the cooler head to my eternal fanatical self, The Guru laughed that wry laugh of his and shot me a thin smile: "Son, much as I appreciate your efforts to save me some money, this is my gift to you. It's a gift I want to be able to see you enjoy while we're both alive."
The promise isn't the first thing on my mind. This is by no means meant as cockiness or anything of the like. I know full well that this team has twelve games to win before that Finals issue ever becomes a concern, and it will be best for both the players and for us fans to take those games one at a time and not to get ahead of ourselves. But for the first time in a long time, there is suddenly just the faintest light at the end of that tunnel to the Finals, one I can just barely begin to make out. And the thought of being there in person, witnessing the ultimate stage of the Celtics' pursuit of seventeen, well, it's a heck of a thought. Frankly, it's just overwhelming.
I'm shaking with excitement because we're all about to delve into the best realm of the unknown imaginable.
Bring on the chase.