A Daily Babble Production
We're digging all the way back to junior year of high school for this one in the personal archive.
Some context: My hometown is generally speaking a wonderful place. I could write plenty about the marvels of growing up there. One thing it isn't, however, is a high school sports hotbed. This is particularly true with regard to basketball, given that no one in town can remember the last time my high school's team made the playoffs.
I mention this because I'm sure that for many of the members of the CB community, the idea of a high school basketball team gaining a playoff berth isn't exactly an unconscionable thought. It is in my school district. In fact, the aforementioned junior year of mine is the only year in what seems like decades that anyone can even remember us finishing at or above .500 (it was "at," rather than "above," by the way).
That all said, the idea that we controlled our own playoff destiny at 6-5 in league play with three games left on the docket was a pretty special one. On the final Thursday of the season, we were neck-and-neck with Long Beach for the final playoff spot in the conference. We would go to Port Washington on Friday, host Long Beach on Monday for Senior Night and travel to Elmont on Wednesday to finish the season. Elmont was one of the top teams in the conference, one that we had stunned on our home floor early in the year in the school's biggest upset in years, and we knew that the boys up there would be waiting with long memories. Long Beach had shellacked us earlier in the season, but it had been in a hostile environment in their gym, and one of our captains had been tossed from that contest. We believed we were a different team now, one that could take LB down in our gym. Port was one of the two league doormats. A cinch win if ever there was one. All we would have to do was to show up and play. If we could take care of them and then steal one from Long Beach on Monday night, we could clinch the playoff spot and make the Elmont game irrelevant.
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Coach Kinsella did all the right things as we headed into that stretch. He reminded us that we had proven this year that we could hang with anyone in the league, no matter how daunting it seemed. He reminded us that we were on the verge of doing something very special for a sad athletic department mired in a district where music and art reigned supreme. And most importantly, he reminded us that no matter how amped we were for another crack at Long Beach, there was other business to take care of first.
In fact, that's exactly how he described it: as a business trip. I can still hear the words now. "This is a business trip, fellas. That's all it is. We're going to put on our suits. We're going to take the bus to Port Washington. We're going to stay focused, and we're going to beat them. Because we're better than they are, and it's our time to take care of business. That's all this is. We'll win that and then worry about prepping for Long Beach over the weekend."
Alas, you know how the story goes.
The practice for Long Beach on Saturday morning was a heck of a lot more subdued than expected. That's because by that point, no one was sure how much it would matter even if we did beat Long Beach on Senior Night. Because we would still need to go win at Elmont on Wednesday and possibly need help to get in.
Because, somehow, we blew it the Friday night before. We walked in for our business trip, and everything just fell apart. Their crowd was loud for Port's Senior Night. We couldn't get in rhythm early. We struggled to get back into the game in the second and third quarters, but once we did, we just didn't have enough gas in the tank. Even a four-point play from our captain couldn't get the juices going strongly enough. What I remember more than anything was the feeling of hopelessness on the bench as we watched our guys run around to give fouls to stop the clock in the final minute of the game, with the freebies progressively drawing the game more and more out of hand. That feeling that it was all slipping away controlled us. We had had such a great opportunity, and it had gone right through our hands.
I tell you all of this long-winded narrative because it's the only feeling I can think of that might match that which the Indiana Pacers are experiencing right now.
The Pacers' situation wasn't the same as ours, but it was close enough. They didn't control their own destiny going into last night, but they had a chance to at least move a step in that direction.
This would be thanks to the fact that the Hawks fell at home to our beloved Celtics, and the Pacers had the lowly Bobcats coming into town. The Pacers had a golden opportunity to move within a game of the Hawks with two to play, and all they had to do was beat an 8-point underdog that had gone 10-29 on the road this season. It was a business trip game without the trip.
But -- pardon the awful pun upcoming -- while the Pacers didn't need to make a trip, they certainly took a fall last night. Somehow, they just didn't have it. They were outscored by 10 points over the first three quarters and played lethargic basketball in the second and third in particular. Sure, they fought back in the fourth, but they just didn't have the gusto to come all the way back and hang on to the basketball game. The numbers tell a strikingly awful story: Fifty-nine rebounds allowed, for a minus-16 differential. Sub-41 percent shooting from the field. Nine missed foul shots in 25 attempts. Yes, the Indiana Pacers did the unthinkable in the midst of a little-room-for-error playoff chase last night. They lost to the Charlotte Bobcats.
They lost a business trip game.
And if we Highlander basketball players know anything, it's that when you lose the business trip games, the rest just doesn't seem to matter as much anymore, no matter what the reality is. It didn't matter that we upset Long Beach at home on Monday, because there was never any chance in Elmont two days later. They remembered the miraculous defeat back at our place, and we know they remembered. But just in case we didn't, they came out of the gate with a 10-0 run just to make it clear. The final was 75-43. Ultimately, winning that Elmont game might have changed things for us, but no matter what the logistical case was by then, it didn't matter. That's because we knew we blew it in Port Washington the week before. We knew that the opportunity had slipped through us, and we knew we couldn't count on Long Beach to bail us out with another loss while we were playing Elmont (they didn't).
Hard to imagine that's much different from what the Pacers are feeling now. Sure, they can probably beat Washington and New York, but how much it will matter remains very much in question. Especially with the Hawks solely needing to beat either Orlando (who is already locked into the third seed in the East) or Miami (who is the league's worst team by a long shot) to claim their spot.
Of all the possible feelings in a playoff chase (besides complete collapse), this might be the worst: The feeling where you don't even really get to the games that matter because you blew the business trip game beforehand.
Of course, the Pacers need to focus on not looking at it this way and on gearing up for these next two games, no matter how they are announced. But some things are easier said than done. Especially when there is no one to blame but oneself.
That feeling of deflation is nearly unparalleled in its own right.
Sorry, Indy fans.