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5 Things We Can Learn From The Pats and Red Sox

papi.jpgThe Celtics haven’t been serious contenders for a while now.  It almost seems like we all have to re-learn what contending is all about.  Draft day is no longer the most important time of year (that would be the playoffs).  Getting "kids" playing time is no longer the prime reason to make a substitution (resting veteran legs is the reason now).  Moral victories will now be known by their true name, "losses."

Sitting here flipping between the Pats and Sox games, I couldn’t help but think that the Celtics (and their fans) could learn a few lessons by observing the other teams in town.  Both have been Champions recently and both seem to be contending year in and year out. 

Now, the parallels are not perfect.  These are very different sports with very different dynamics.  However, when broken down to their base elements, the fundamental truths in all sports aren’t so different after all.

Defense Wins

 Big bats sell tickets, but they still fail 70% of the time.  Star quarterbacks and big name skill players get the headlines, but a great defense can shut them down. Great pitching and great defense wins Championships.  Always has, always will.

The Celtics have given lip service to defense for years; largely blaming the youth for the team’s deficiencies.  Of course Scott Skiles got his young Bulls teams to play defense.  Still, the team has brought in two of the league’s best defenders (KG and Posey) and one of the game’s best defensive coaches (Thibodeau).  They now have the pieces in place to put the clamps down on the opposition.  No more excuses.  Now it is all about heart and wanting it more than the other team.

Leadership Matters

brady.jpg Which brings us to the next point.  A team is made up of individuals rallying around a common cause.  Those individuals need someone to step up and set the tone and provide direction.  For the Red Sox, often times that is played out with Big Papi providing a huge emotional lift.  For the Patriots, there’s no question that Tom Brady is in charge.

Now the Celtics have 3 alpha-males.  Will that be a distraction or will it be an embarrassment of riches?  I have a lot of confidence in the latter, but we won’t know until the regular season drags on and the team hits its first rough patch.   Everyone is smiles and fist pumps now.  What happens when the team drops a couple of tough games in a row?  Who will step up and lead the charge into the next game?

Coaching Matters

Due to the recent controversy, Bill Belichick isn’t the best example to use right now, but he was clearly the mastermind behind the Patriots 3 Super Bowl victories.  The way he game-plans for opponents (insert film room joke here) always gives his team an edge.  The way he adjusted to what the other team was doing mid-game always put the team in position to put the game away.

Perhaps a better comparison to Doc is Terry Francona.  His methods and decisions are questioned by the fans but he’s well liked by the team and he’s juggled a lot of bigtime personalities.  Doc will need to do a major ego juggling act this year.

Of course the big difference is that Francona has a Championship ring and Doc just has a Coach of the Year award to his name.  The players play, but the coach has to put them in the right position to win.

Handle The Media (including blogs)

Boston loves its sports and the media feeds that need like few other outlets.  Unlike New York, there is just one baseball team; one football team; one basketball team.  Everything is focused.

The Red Sox in particular have brought in players (big name players) that thought they knew what they were getting into.  Soon they discovered how overwhelming the media attention can be and many have fallen flat on their faces.  If a player doesn’t have the right mental makeup, they will not make it in this town.

The Patriots make every attempt to shield the players from the spotlight, taking an almost military like approach to the media’s access to players and information.

The Celtics likely won’t take it to that level of restriction, but we’ve already heard from Scott Souza that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett prefer to deal with the media at certain times and within certain time constraints.  That’s only smart as they would be fielding endless questions if they didn’t set their own boundaries.

This town has focused a lot of attention on the Sox and Pats over the last few years, and rightly so.  But once the Celtics hit the floor, they are going to need to shift a lot of that attention to the NBA.  The Boston Globe brought in Marc Spears for just that purpose. 

The Celtics need to make sure the players (especially the younger ones) are ready for the scrutiny.  Luckily, handling the media is right in Doc’s wheelhouse.  He should be able to deflect and spin with the best of them. 

It’s A Marathon, Not A Sprint

The Red Sox put on quite a show during the first half of the year.  It looked like the Yankees were dead and buried.  The second half of the year hasn’t been bad either, but those Yanks got themselves all the way back into it.  Never count out a formidable foe.  Never let up.

It is important for this team to come out of the gates firing on all cylinders.  On the other hand, they need to remember to prepare for the long haul.  That means resisting the urge to play Pierce, KG, and Ray Allen 40 minutes a night.  That means giving players a few days off if they are really hurting.  On the other hand, it also means learning to play through nicks and bruises that come with the rigors of an 82 game schedule (then the playoffs). 

And of course it means staying focused and driven throughout the year.  Something tells me that won’t be a problem for Kevin Garnett.  Hopefully the rest of the team will follow suit.

Basketball Town

The Pats mini-dynasty has been great for their fans.  Boston LOVES its Red Sox for good reason.  But still, this is the Boston Celtics we are talking about here.  This is the single greatest basketball franchise in the world.  16 banners hang in the rafters as a reminder of all that was good and great about this team.  It is time to make this a basketball town again.  To do so the Celts will have to learn from the successes and mistakes of the other sports teams in town.