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Breathing Deep After a Frustrating Loss

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What odd timing for the first major blip on the Celtics' postseason radar.

As I walked to the gym on a peaceful Saturday afternoon, it was the issue of losing that sat on my mind -- namely, how I was going to react when and if it occurred this postseason.

The team was coming off two blowout victories and the reception of John Hollinger's blessing that it would be cruising by 20-plus points with regularity and might not lose a game until the Finals.  It wasn't expected to suffer any setbacks in this series, and as a result, I was curious as to how I might deal with such a setback later on.  Brief reminder: For someone who likes to consider himself a fairly even keel guy in life, I really don't take too well to losing.  In pick-up basketball.  In Scrabble.  In Boggle.  And particularly with regard to the Celtics.

Even in this wonderful 66-win season, the few losses I witnessed tended to drive me crazy.  As a brief reminder of what we're talking about here, let's go with an excerpt courtesy of the column from the day after the January loss to Orlando on Hedo Turkoglu's buzzer-beater:

Within ninety seconds of Hedo Turkoglu's improbable trey dropping through the twine on Sunday afternoon, I had already put a block and a half of distance between my residence and myself in an effort to walk off my fury rather than exploring its possible consequences around other humans.

It was at about that minute-and-a-half mark that I realized I hadn't even taken the time to put sneakers on.  So ended the walk.

That was in mid-January with an eleven-game lead in the division.  Given the rather increased meaning and heightened urgency of the playoffs -- where four losses in seven games ends the season -- losing was likely to be taken with even less patience on my end.  But given that there certainly haven't been any teams in my memory that got through the playoffs without a single blemish on the record, it was a reality that was extraordinarily likely to be faced sooner or later.  So a small part of a Saturday afternoon was dedicated to considering what the appropriate reaction to this would be, whenever it happened.  The resolution?  To cross that bridge when the time came.

Hello, bridge. 

It seems we've reached you well sooner than expected.

Surprisingly enough, the reaction espoused here thus far has been a salutation to calmness and patience as well.

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All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog.  Check him out!



It just isn't worth the strain of getting too upset over this one.  Now isn't the time for that.

Undoubtedly, as Jeff touched on in his post-game briefing, there was plenty of discouraging stuff occurring on the floor last night.   The Celts not guarding anybody wasn't too good.  The lack of offensive cohesion all night was frustrating.  That was just the beginning.  The needless fouls.  The fact that the team seemed to go into panic mode way too early, which led to bad shots, long rebounds and more Atlanta baskets in transition.  That the first road playoff test this team faced resulted in such a miserable failure.  That the bench didn't have all that much to add either.  This Pierce-Hoford posture-fest seems like something that could have been done without as well.  The list goes on and on.  As member Bahku (a seemingly like-wired night owl and always an amusing yet on point source of insight) pointed out in an eloquent and well thought-out forum post of his own, this loss was certainly a team effort, with contributions all around.

But that doesn't make it worth going off the deep end as a fan.

These guys are humans.  They deal with momentum shifts, energy levels, the strains of travel and injury and plenty more, and they are going to occasionally come out without their best stuff.  It's part of the program.  One loss doesn't mean there is a need to flip out, or that the sky is falling, or that this team suddenly isn't capable of winning a championship.  It destroyed this Hawks team twice in the last week, and there is certainly a fair bit of likelihood that it will do the same throughout the week to come. 

It is worth remembering after all that sweeping a team is no easy feat.  Sure, it happens with some regularity in this league, but that doesn't make it a walk in the park.  For all the talk about how minute the physical talent differences truly are at this level, it is plenty difficult to beat the same team four times in a row.  Chances are, it shouldn't happen as much as it does. If the Celtics can take care of business in these next two games and beat the Hawks in five, they will be looking at having won 80 percent of their playoff games for the series, which would be right around the astoundingly high percentage the team played at through the entirety of the regular season.  No shame there.

The Celtics are better than the Hawks are.  They have shown it all year and in two of the three games of this series: They defend better, move the ball better, score more, have better coaching and a deeper bench.  A Celtics team with the additional motivation of a bad loss in Game 3 in Atlanta should only come out with more strength and will to kill on Monday night in Game 4.

And lest we forget, it wouldn't hurt to at least note that it takes two teams to play these games, and in addition to the Celtics' poor play, those on the other team involved in this contest collectively played out of their minds.  Hats off to the Hawks as a team, as they shot an absurd 10-for-18 from three-point land, played an as-of-yet-unseen stifling defense at times on the C's, pulled down 12 offensive rebounds and generally played with more urgency than the Celtics did.  To Josh Smith as well, who played an incredible game, going for 27 points, 9 boards and 6 assists on 11-for-17 shooting.  He put out an incredibly well-rounded individual effort, and he deserves credit for it.  So does Mike Woodson, who finally figured out that it would best serve his team of athletes to push the Hawks to run the tempo and look to get easy buckets in transition early.  To Al Horford -- despite his run-in with Pierce -- for another well-played game overall (17 points, 14 boards).  To the crowd in Atlanta, for getting up and making some noise when it become clear that the Hawks were going to be in this game to stay.

Good work all around, Hawks folk.  You beat a team that has indicated itself to be largely superior all season, and you beat it soundly.  That's something to feel very good about.

Sometimes, a bad team surprises a good team.   It's part of the game.  If it wasn't going to be, then we might as well not play the games -- it would all be done on paper.

For this Celtics team, there is only one thing to worry about, which is the same goal as they are likely have set for every playoff day: the next game.  That is always the most important one, especially in the playoffs.   This is a Celts team quite capable of decisively winning Game 4 and putting a strangle-hold on the Hawks.   It has no reason and to panic.

And neither do we fans.  It was a rough night, to be sure, but it's a rough night that is (mercifully) over, and the chance for the fellas to redeem themselves will be coming right around the corner.  If we're sitting here on Tuesday morning with a series that is evened at two, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.  But for now, it's a simple case of one basketball team being too human for one night and the other not being human enough.  For one night.

But come Monday, we could all be singing a much happier song once more.  Waiting for that sans unnecessary anger suits me just fine this particular time around. 

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