First of all, this one hurts ... it's hard to swallow losing to a team like the Hawks, not because they're bad, but because we are a much better team ... in every aspect ... they know it, and we know it. All we needed to do last night was play our game, nothing fancy, just stick to the swarming D and attacking offense that got us the championship. No tricks ... no secret weapons, just good solid round-ball.
That said, this loss just can't be laid on one person's shoulders ... no way. Everyone is important when we win, and everyone is to blame when we lose .. period. It amazes me that there is so much MORE activity on most blogs after a loss than following a win. I don't think it's a bad thing, just curious that people are so much quicker to lay blame than they are to share in the joy of a victory. So be it ... human nature.
There are those waiting to land on Doc ... those waiting to defend him. Many want to blame the refs, and just as many want to defer from them. Many see certain players as being at fault, and those players have plenty of people who'll stick up for them. It's just human nature, and it's really what makes this blog go 'round. But it can never be that simple.
Winning in the NBA is a complicated, coordinated effort, relying on many talents at every level, and depending on the cohesiveness of all those elements to work together like a tight unit ... one cog turning another in smooth tandem. It's very easy to get "comfortable" when things go so smoothly, and it's easy to take for granted just how much has to go right for a team like the Celtics to have a season like they have this year.
I think we fall victim to that just a bit ... I know I do, and we don't really grasp that symphony of human initiative, until it begins to come apart ... like last night. Winning is easy to get used to, it's what a good team is supposed to do ... it's what we expect of these guys, and when it happens, it feels right ... like the world is spinning the way it should. It doesn't really stand out in our minds as much, because, after so much struggling that we as humans do in our daily lives, to see something we love functioning the way it should, we're more than ready to place it in that sometimes short column of: "Life Is Good" ... and let it set for a while.
That's OK ... we need those things to balance us out, and to placate the negative energies and distractions that our lives are continually plagued with. It's nice to have something fall quite nicely into that "Ahhhh ... sweet!" basket ... it happens far too infrequently, and we relish it, as we should. But there is one price to pay for that "Life Is Good" item, and it's the ever-irritating and relentless "other side" of the coin. Last night was one of those inevitable "tails" sides, that we often refer to as wake-up calls. While they're a bit hard to take sometimes, they're unfortunately just as natural, and just as necessary.
First element involved: the officiating. The refereeing tonight was horrible. I know, there are many out there who want to think that it's all the team's fault, and that the refs are not accountable for their actions ... good or bad, but that's wrong. They're human, like we are ... they make mistakes and they should be accountable for them. I watched this game, trying as hard as I could to be objective, (and I'm sure I came up short there), and what I saw was this: the refs were literally looking for every chance they could get to catch the Celtics at something ... anything. It was NOT happening at the other end, however, and that imbalance is a flaw in the game.
If officiating is going to be as objective as it can be, then the refs have got to assess the play on both ends of the floor with the same criteria, and with the same tools. That wasn't happening in this one ... not remotely. They were searching diligently for every small crack in the Celtics behavior to take advantage of, and they expounded on each one, with as much favor given to the Hawks' advantage as possible. The Celtics, however, had to literally get mugged, or bloody, to get a call in their favor, and it was obvious.
To those who look to bail the refs out of their responsibility, you've got to remember: they are as much a part or an element of this game as the players are, are just as human, and are just as accountable for their mistakes and biases. If you think that the NBA and it's officiating staffs have absolutely no agenda to affect the outcome of games or lengthen playoffs series, (if at all possible), or to make the games closer and more "evenly matched", then you need to take a little closer look. It happens ... and that's part of what was going on against the Hawks ... clearly.
Second element involved: the coaching. Doc has been great this year ... near to genius in some aspects, I feel, and he deserves a great deal of accolades. But the rotation last night, especially in the second and fourth quarters, was not right. There were players in at times when they shouldn't have been, combinations that made very little sense or headway, time-outs and plays called that were extremely questionable, and just plain poor decisions made. At a point in the game where energy and consistency was crucial, Doc had players in who have had very little time together, or very little effectiveness in their past performances.
Now, here we go into the dreaded "Don't Mess With Doc" category, as there are a bunch of fans ready to defend him to the teeth, and that's admirable. I, myself, will defend Doc as vehemently as anyone if I feel he's been attacked unjustly. But, though I don't like saying it, he was as much at fault last night as all the other elements. He's human, people, and despite the fact he's getting paid a ton of bucks, (deservedly), and there's this godlike respect in this league for the "hands-off" rule afforded the coaches, he makes mistakes ... and he made some tonight. It's going to happen, no matter how much love he gets.
Here's the thing, though: It's OK ... he can take a little responsibility and accountability ... he's a big boy, and he'll be fine. He's messed up before, and he'll do it again, and to think he's somehow above the errors of everyone else, is naive' ... and a bit silly. Doc is a great coach, and we're lucky to have him, but he made some poor decisions in this one, and if you didn't see them, then I suggest you watch games a little more objectively from now on ... it happens in every one. Enough about Doc, he's part of the loss ... move on.
Third element: the team. OK ... the Celts stunk last night, (save for The Truth), and even if those are words forbidden in the coaching staff's direction, I think I'm safe using them here. They had no energy, no consistency, little life, very little cohesiveness, and poor defense over all. The thing that has gotten them so far over the last two-plus years, totally let them down in this game. They made poor shot selections, poor decisions on picks, were confused at times, and didn't communicate well. There were flashes of greatness here and there, but no fluidity on either end of the floor, and very little clean execution. While I think the rotation was a little confusing to them as well, they've got to take their knocks here ... it wasn't pretty.
We don't need pretty, or even perfection ... but we DO need them to play with heart, and spirit, and energy, and execute like they've been executing all year. This is the playoffs, and they played tonight's game with the urgency of the pre-season ... or even less. It's great that they got angry at certain points in the game, because I think they'll use that on Sunday in a positive fashion. But it was too little too late, and just a last gasp. We saw a team tonight who, despite all efforts to the contrary, played like a win was a "given", and the young, athletic, and hungry opponent, who played like they had nothing to lose, was more than obliged to take advantage ... and that they did.
Fourth element: the "unknown" factor. This was one of the strangest games I've seen in a long time. I mean, that building is terrible, and their announcer is way over the line, to say the LEAST! As the C's were leaving the floor after the game was over, he chimed in with: "So, Celtics ... can we call it a rivalry NOW?" It was just one more inane baiting comment to place onto the pile of what we were forced to listen to all night. I feel a bit "small" to even suggest that such a thing could affect the Celtics' game, but it sure as heck would bother me if I was on the floor. There were also multiple times in this game where there were those strange little interruptions, and whatever you want to think, it DOES make a difference, and it can affect a team negatively.
There are other factors, too, that we're all very familiar with, that can affect a team in unseen ways, as well as the obvious ... the fans, travel schedule, being in a "hostile" environment, even the food they eat before the game. The point I'm trying to make is that it's NEVER just one thing, or one person, that wins a game ... it's a TEAM thing. Losing is just as much a team thing, and I think we're quick to forget that, in our frantic efforts to find an answer to something so troubling. It's normal ... it's human, and it's OK.
But we've got to keep that in mind just as much while assessing losses, as we do when analyzing wins. It's fine to defend a player when you feel he's being attacked unfairly, or the coach, or the refs ... that's a good thing, and it's expected. But it's just as normal and acceptable to criticize those same people, as long as we do so in a collective way, an objective way, and keep in mind that that person isn't the ONLY thing responsible. We're all in this together, and we're all just trying to find the answers to a question that doesn't have a$single, obveous resolution.
Nothing is simple in life, and this game was not a loss attributable to any one factor. For whatever reasons, the odds were against us in this game. Many things failed us, and many factors went into this nightmare we call "defeat". So, when someone says they blame Doc, or another says it was the refs' fault, or someone else claims it was your favorite player, just remember that they're entitled to that view, and that the person they're talking about is as much a part of this loss, as they are an element to every win. Are some MORE responsible than others? Most likely, yes ... but that's a decision better left to the fates. We're in this together, folks ... and that's just where our beloved Celtics need us.
Tomorrow is another day ... and the sun WILL shine again. It's no fluke that this team is where it is, (yes, we ARE still one of the top teams in the NBA), and if I know nothing else, I know that our boys will be doing everything they can to turn this thing around, and will be "rebounding" in a big way. If I were the Hawks, I'd be just a bit worried that the glare in the eyes of Pierce and Garnett, or the curl in Ray's lip, or the furrow in Perk's brow, or Rondo's quiet intensity, is meant for their eminent demise, should we meet again in the post-season.