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Play Like Champions


Rondo, Pierce, Garnett and company once again took care of business on their home home court last night.  However, that's just the first step and it doesn't do anything to clear up the questions about their record on the road. 

The Celtics walked into the playoffs with the swagger of a team that had conquered the regular season and expected to do the same to the postseason.  But something happened on the way to the Finals.  At times you could describe the team's play as "soft," "timid," or even "lost."  These are not terms you hear associated with Championship teams.  They need to fix that fast if they want to go down in history for the right reasons.

It isn't supposed to come easy in the playoffs.  The stakes are higher, the teams are better, and everyone is fighting for their proverbial lives.  But if you look back, the teams that win the title typically take care of business.  The have an alpha-dog feel about them.  Look at the Spurs; they have that swagger of "we've been there before and we'll do it again."  Look at the Pistons; when was the last time you saw them play with panic?  That's not to say that those teams weren't tested.  They just took care of business.

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That's not to say a team can't catch lightning in a bottle and run a hot streak right into the Finals, not unlike the Miami Heat did a couple years back.  Basketball is still very much a game of confidence and streaks, and if the Celtics can start rolling, there's no telling when or if they'll be stopped. But it has to start somewhere.

That's why this next game is so critical.  Winning game 5 was fantastic.  It allowed the Celtics to seize momentum and take the advantage in the series.  But what good is that if they drop the next game?  What if they play hard, make a decent effort, but still come up short on the road once again?  They could point to a very tough defensive Cavalier team and say that they were just too strong at home.  They could throw their hands up in the air and say "when LeBron is on, there's no stopping him."  They could do all this in game 6 and still turn around and take care of business at home and advance to the next round.  But that's not the way champions do it.

It is one thing to have one series go seven games, even if it is the first round.  It is another thing to need another seven games to get out of the second round.  It is still another thing to lose every road game along the way.  This is not the kind of play that translates into banners in the rafters.

Obviously if the team gets knocked out, it wasn't meant to be.  The question is, even if the Celtics advance, but need a seventh game to do it (still winless on the road), can they really have much hope to beat the Pistons and eventually win the title?  Stranger things have happened, but it just doesn't seem likely.

A win in game 6 doesn't answer all the questions and silence all the critics, but it is a huge step in the right direction.  Winning on the road?  Check.  Putting the opponent away when they are down?  Check.  Displaying mental toughness and killer instinct?  Check.

I still believe this team has a chance to get on a roll and recapture that dominance that they displayed in the regular season.  It can happen.  They have the defense to shut down any and every team in the league.  If they play with confidence and swagger, there's no stopping them.  But it has to start somewhere.  I think it has to start with this next game.

Technically speaking game 6 isn't a "must win" situation.  But if they want to prove to the world (and more importantly to themselves) that they are a Championship caliber team, it would be a good idea to get the win on Friday and close this thing out.

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