One fairly under-the-radar story that has been developing all year has been the occasional chemistry issues on this Boston Celtics team. Bill Simmons alluded to it from time to time, you could sometimes see it in players' body language, and every once in a while a story would surface about minor cases of annoyance. It seems we'll never know the full story but now that the team is winning when it matters, they are opening up a little about it.
When the Cleveland series ended, Garnett admitted that there were some "chemistry problems" this year but that they were better now. Now Julian Benbow has a whole article of quotes on the subject - where players try to explain the subtle differences between tough love and conflict.
Clashes crept up throughout the season. When the Celtics were struggling, family matters seemed like dissension. But in-house issues never reached a self-destructive point, mostly because no matter how heated the battles get, the goals remain the same. Sitting three wins from the Finals, it’s easier for the team to see the rewards of patience.
"There was a stretch in the season where we know each oth er so well, we’ve been around each other for a couple of years now, that we were becoming less patient with each other,’’ Ray Allen said. "When things went awry in any quarter or any game or we lost a couple of games, we were getting on each other a little bit too much. We can take it. But we respected each other.’’
Paul Pierce said, "I think we’re around each other so much we get tired of each other. I know I do. I come in sometimes and get tired of seeing the same faces, the same voices sometimes. That’s normal. Just like any kind of relationship. You have your ups and downs, but you’ve been together so long, you get past the differences and you move on.’’
At this point I think it would be a massive understatement to say that this team has some really strong personalities. You've got hyper-intensive Garnett, defensive lineman-like Perkins, stubborn Rondo, and of course Sheed. The list goes on. In that respect, you could make a case for after-the-fact Coach of the Year votes for Doc Rivers for not only keeping these guys healthy and reasonably rested for the playoffs, but from not wringing each other's throats.
"Doc is sort of like the arbitrator,'' Pierce said. "We go to him when we need him. He's very important. He's the greatest coach for this team, for the strong personalities. He's able to manage them. He knows when to go hard on us. He knows when to ease back on us and it just makes a perfect complement, especially when there's so many alpha males in this group.''
Rivers is as much a counselor as he is a coach, and he accepts that part of the job, knowing if his team is going to succeed the players have to be on the same page.
"I encourage conversation, even if it's heated,'' Rivers said. "Because I think at the end of the day, it's what you truly feel. Then, you can move forward.''
It is easier to get along when you are winning and I would make a case that it is easier to win when you get along to a certain extent. Perhaps a little conflict is necessary to keep each other accountable, as long as it doesn't get out of control. Like any good family, they are banding together when the stakes are highest and it is comforting to see. I think they'll need that unity to achieve their goals and raise another banner.