One win shy is what Boston sports are built on.
Game 7, 1975 World Series – Red Sox 3, Reds 4 (couldn’t carry the momentum from Fisk’s game-winning blast in Game 6 the night before)
AL East Tie-Breaker Game, 1978 – Red Sox 4, Yankees 5 (Bucky ‘flipping’ Dent!)
Game 7, 1982 Eastern Conference Championship – Celtics 106, 76ers 120 (Knowing the game was out of reach, Celtics fans were generous enough to wish the 76ers luck in the NBA Finals against the Lakers, creating the now infamous chant, “Beat LA!”)
Game 7, 1986 World Series – Red Sox 5, Mets 8 (I have nothing to say)
Game 7, 2003 American League Championship – Red Sox 5, Yankees 6 (Aaron Boone? Seriously!)
Super Bowl XLII – Patriots 14, Giants 17 (I’m not even a Patriots fan, but that was a back-breaker)
Game 7, 2009 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals – Celtics 82, Magic 101 (after having a 3-2 series lead; we lost the game on our home floor)
Game 7, 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals – Bruins 3, Flyers 4 (capping a Flyers’ comeback from being down 3-0 in the series and the game)
And, the newest addition…
Game 7, 2010 NBA Finals – Celtics 79, Lakers 83 (after having a 3-2 series lead)
One win shy is what builds character amongst Boston sports fans. Love us or hate us, we earn our victories and we suffer our defeats. We’re not fair-weather fans. We live, breath, and bleed our teams. We wouldn’t be the greatest sports fans in the nation if we didn’t have the monumental losses to embolden our unforgettable wins.
We cheered and believed in these weathered warriors, older in-body than their stated ages. We jeered their sometimes inconsistent lack of effort. We picked them up at home, supported them through injuries and adversity. We shook the TD Garden to its rafters, chanting “Let’s Go Celtics!,” even as they seemed destined to take an early knockout punch in the playoffs. But there they were, at season’s end, standing on the floor of the NBA Finals, four points and a few missed opportunities from being NBA Champions.
I could declare how much I loathe and detest the Lakers, with their bandwagon celebrity fans, their Zen Master coach, and their alleged-rapist superstar.
I could insinuate how the Lakers benefited from suspect calls – K.G.’s disallowed ‘And-1’ play that was a game-changer; Gasol’s obvious travel (in this country, we call it an “up-and-down” when you jump and land before releasing the ball) on a shot with under three minutes to go in the game.
I could even bemoan the absurd discrepancy in Free Throw Attempts – Lakers 37, Celtics 17. The Lakers shot just 67% from the free throw line, yet they still made 8 more free throws than the Celtics even attempted.
Finally, I could denounce the basketball gods for allowing an alleged rapist (k.o.b.e.) and should-be convict (that would be Artest, of the fan-punching incident) to celebrate a series victory over a team of resolute gentlemen.
But being a Boston sports fan means more than petty excuses. We are intelligent enough to recognize flaws in the game and discrepancies in officiating, but we’re also honest enough to recognize flaws in ourselves.
In the second half of Game 7, we reverted back to our inconsistent ways. The offense grew stagnant, players became less aggressive, focus waned, and we lost. It happens. In my opinion, we lost this game during a crucial six-minute stretch in the fourth quarter. On display was every criticism thrown at us by analysts and commentators during the season. We seemed old and sluggish. We seemed complacent. We seemed ready to lose. It was unfortunate, but it happens.
Certain players played too many minutes this year, and others not enough. In the final minutes of the fourth quarter of the ultimate game of the season, we had tired legs and wavering hearts. Our 24 year-old point guard (Rondo) was as tired and worn down as our 34 year-old power forward (KG). Our 32 year-old small forward (Pierce) and our 34 year-old shooting guard (Allen) weren’t able to muster much energy either. Our starting center (Perkins) was on the sideline in a suit, and his replacement, 35 year-old Rasheed Wallce, was nursing a hamstring injury after playing more minutes than he was accustomed to. Our coach (Doc) didn’t have absolute faith in our bench, and, honestly, why should he. We had too many new guys riding the pine, all unproven on the big stage. We rode our stars to the finish line and came up short.
The enigmatic-as-anyone Rasheed Wallace played 36 grueling minutes on a sore hamstring, banking off the glass, grabbing boards, blocking shots, and putting a nice cap on his career (if he retires, which seems a distinct possibility). Watching Sheed underperform all season I never thought I would say the following, but he gave it his all in Game 7 and played fantastically.
Ray Allen spent much of this series ice cold, making his record-breaking Game 2 three-point barrage seem more like a mirage. He did an admirable job defending Kobe, especially in the final few games, but the effort he expended on defense wasn’t there for his offense, and his picture-perfect jump shot fell to pieces. Do we bring him back next year? Honestly, I don’t know how I feel. He’s a future Hall of Famer and a gentleman; unfortunately, he’s an aging gentleman.
KG started the series quietly, but roared to the finish line, until he hit the fourth quarter of Game 7, when his tired legs caught up with him. It was heart-breaking to watch. Who knows how much he has left in his tank?
Pierce just didn’t seem to show up for this series. Maybe it was the physical defense used against him, maybe it was something in his personal life, maybe he had no fuel left in his tank; regardless, it was sad and disappointing to watch my favorite Celtic not give maximum effort. It’s abhorrent that he seemed to not want this championship. He too easily gave it away. He’s still the greatest Celtic of my adult life, but his heart wasn’t in this series.
Perkins was the victim of an unfortunate and unnecessary foul in Game 6 that tore both his MCL and PCL in his right knee, costing him a chance to leave his mark on Game 7. I feel for the man. He is the bull of the Celtics’ defense. He bangs and tussles and fights on every possession, and he was robbed of his chance to compete in the biggest game of the season. My hope is that he recovers to near full strength for next season’s grueling journey.
Rondo was up and down the entire series. He nearly had a triple-double in Game 7, but he seemed completely absent in the second half. He was overplayed throughout the playoffs, averaging an unsustainable 40+ minutes per game. His load needs to be lightened in the seasons to come, or he’s going to wear down at each season’s end.
Big Baby is ours and we should sign him until he is either too old or too fat to play basketball. He’s neither the tallest nor the smartest guy on the floor, but he hustles and makes shots. With more minutes and more confidence, he’s a solid building block for this team’s future. Sign him to a longer extension.
Nate is a capable player, and if he develops a more consistent three-point shot and veteran savvy then he could become our next Eddie House. Speaking of Eddie House, we missed him in the playoffs. He would have added an instant three-point threat, and would have helped take the load off of Ray Allen and Rondo. Nate wasn’t ready.
Re-sign Tony Allen. He may not be able to create his own shot, but when the team is running, he finishes, and he is the only lock-down defender on the team. Re-sign Tony Allen.
As for our coach, I will miss Doc Rovers if/when he leaves, but there is a part of me that is excited to see what happens when our offensive philosophy changes a bit. Doc is notorious for not trusting younger bench players, and it became a hindrance as the playoffs progressed; our starters logged too many minutes while million dollar players sat in the sweat suits on the bench. As long as our defensive intensity stays intact, I’ll be open to a more offensive-minded coach to help Rondo and the young-ins fulfill their fast break destiny.
During the season, the playoffs, and the Finals, everyone did what was asked of them, but we still fell one win shy. So it goes.
Twenty-four grueling playoff games, with Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard sent packing on our way to the Finals. Game 7 was a hard game to swallow, but I swallowed it, it’s over and done with. So what we didn’t win the whole thing. We still have the better TEAM. I’m still in love with these guys. I still bleed Celtics Green. It was an extraordinarily entertaining ride, and we watched the classier, grittier team finish one win shy.
[Please visit my site, www.edwardkasche.com, where I write about sports, film, and other topics.]