Good morning, all. Today is Sunday, June 15, 2008 -- Father's Day (hi, Dad). Today also marks the first time in 21 years that your, my and our Boston Celtics will play for the chance to become NBA champions.
We fans have had two off days to let the miracle that happened in Los Angeles on Thursday night fully sink in. I've lost count of how many folks around here have mentoned watching encore broadcasts of Game 4, and rightfully so on their part. It was nothing short of an epic, and here's imagining that watching that game knowing the outcome is a tad easier on the blood pressure for Celts fans.
So here we are on what could be the final game day of the season, and I'm already in the midst of what can only be termed the Swirl.
The Swirl has become uncharted territory for Celts fans over the last two decades, but it's impossible to miss once it hits you. It's the rush of emotions of all sorts as one realizes that the destination is readily approaching.
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Of course, it starts with the obvious: Excitement is first, second and third. This team -- our team, the team we've stuck with all these years -- is on the verge of the ultimate. All the hard work all season for the players comes down to this. All the forum posting and ranting and raving on our end, it was all about us armchair GMs (and coaches) figuring out how to get this team to this. This goal. Champions. Our boys have us knocking on the doorstep of the ultimate feeling of sports fandom. That taste of the final glory is a prospect that's likely to make any fan with a pulse just a bit jumpy.
A win tonight sends us into exuberance for the rest of the summer. A loss means two more chances to win it all will come at home this week. Save for going into Game 4 having a 3-0 lead -- or having Game 5 at home -- it's hard to think of a better situation for this team to be in. It's an all but perfect low-risk scenario.
But that doesn't mean there isn't room for just a bit of apprehension. We've all seen the stats about how often teams come back from 3-1 deficits to win the Finals. But, to steal one from the SportsCenter anchors of the late '90s, games aren't played on paper; they're played inside of television sets. There are plenty of Red Sox fans on this board, and they certainly know a bit about improbable series comebacks. For my personal scarring story of the day, no pro sports team of mine has held a 3-1 lead since the Celts in the first round against the Pacers in 2003. That it's been five years is likely enough of a problem, but the real issue is that the Celts' lead edged another one by less than a week: My beloved St. Louis Blues (this, of course was before hockey locked us out and thus became comatose to me) lost three straight games to the Vancouver Canucks to choke away a 3-1 advantage of their own.
Almost invariably, each of us has our scars as fans. It doesn't mean we're not confident in our boys -- plenty of faith here -- but simply that we're not cocksure to the point of believing that this puppy is already wrapped up. The sooner the Celts win one more to clinch this seventeenth banner, the better.
Then again, that brings up another feeling: how close we are to it all being over.
Brief disclaimer: Make no mistake, the only thing that matters to me tonight is a Celtics victory. There's no pushing for more games simply to extend the season here.
But with that being said, it is something to think about. From April 26th through May 30th, there was Celtics playoff basketball for our consumption every other day. Without exception. We got six days off to revel in winning the Eastern Conference title, and then it was time for the three-games-a-week Finals. More than at any other time in my career as a sports fan, this run has taught me the true meaning of 'cherishing the journey.' I've been actively 'mailing it in' on the rest of life for what feels like several months now, consciously structuring my world around this Celtics team. And I've loved every minute of it. The excitement of game days. The rest days to cool off from the highs or lows of the night before. The quick returns to action to prevent too much stewing. Truth be told, win or lose tonight, I'm not yet sure how I'm going to feel without another game two days from whenever this series ends. Five months is a long time to go without losing my voice in my living room or pulling on my pair of green tube socks or hearing Eddie Palladino's voice introduce "the captain aaaaaaaaaaaaand The Truth, Paul Pierce." As great as the ultimate victory will feel if our boys get there, this season -- and particularly this playoff run -- will always rank as a set of seminal moments in my sports fanhood. Again, this is by no means a plea for a sixth or seventh game, but I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't miss 'the chase' when this is all over, no matter how it ends. It's been a pleasure to witness.
By the same token, no matter what happens over the next one to three games, this particular team will always hold a special place in our hearts, and I want to make sure I soak in every second of getting to watch this particular group play one more time. Avoiding all the forum threads about off-season movement and future plans has become a must for me so long as the playoffs have been going on, but the likely reality is that changes will be forthcoming this off-season. Maybe it will be only a few inactives deep at the end of the bench whose faces change. Maybe major components of the rotation will be redone. In the business that is professional sports, there is any number of scenarious that could play out. But from one through fifteen (plus the coaching staff and front office), this team has been special. What becomes of the likes of P.J. Brown, Tony Allen, Big Game James, "Too Much" Eddie and the rest of the crew remains to be seen, and that's a thought that makes me quite nervous. Because this team has been a joy to root for from the start.
But those concerns are for another day. For at least one more night, we'll get to watch this team, these 2007-08 Boston Celtics, the exact group of fellows who have brought so much happiness into our lives. Whether they bring us the ultimate happiness or wind up permanently listed simply as Eastern Conference champs, nothing can take away of all what they've given us already. Watching them once more will be a feeling worth savoring.
I'm nervous about the thought of eventually having to come off the high of the Finals to finally read a "What is Danny going to do this summer?" commentary, and no matter when it happens, I'll think it's premature. Too much, too soon. Too soon to curtail a recovery from a stunning loss, or hopefully too soon to pop back to reality from the exuberance of being champions. I'm nervous about the concerns among our fans that are likely to still exist if this team wins and the respect isn't as universal as many expect it to be. Come to think of it, the future's a worrisome thought. The end of this current run only means that we'll have to confront that future more quickly.
But then again, there's as good a chance as we could hope for that we'll be able to confront it as fans of the NBA's reigning champs, and when all is said and done, it's that feeling that pushes the trivial nervousness discussed above to the very last seat on the back-burner today. It's that feeling that brings us full circle, back to living in the present, back to where we started this morning: pure, unadulterated excitement.
Hey, folks? Our team plays for the ultimate feeling tonight. Let's crank up the energy and enjoy it for all that it's worth.
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Two quick notes: A very special Father's Day to all! As those who read my words with any regularity are probably all too aware at this point, the most special part of this run for me on a personal level has been enjoying it with my father, The Guru. There seems to be something too fitting about the prospect of sitting on the couch next to him to watch our boys possibly wrap one up for good on Father's Day. Best wishes to all who are celebrating today.
But speaking of the 'prospects of wrapping it up,' a big belated (by just a day in this space) happy birthday to Mother of Son of The Guru! MoSoTG seems to have some pretty great Celtics karma going, as the green must be average something close to plus-double-digits every time she's in the room for a game. She's acutely aware of this, routinely yelling "Why'd it happen, huh? Why'd it happen? You know it!" at The Guru and me while pounding her heart KG-style whenever the Celts get on a run with her watching. Hey, whatever it takes, right? Thanks for all your wonderful power over the green's fate, and happy birthday, Mom!