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The Rare Loss That Is Still Cause For Excitement

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A Daily Babble Production

It feels like there are about a million points of note to discuss after a draining overtime battle against the purple and gold.  Over the next couple of days, the Babble may get to several of them, namely Large Baby and Doc's handling of the rotations (two situations where I've got much less complaining planned than might be expected).  But for this afternoon, we're focusing on the thought that permeated my overheated cranial cavity throughout last night's contest and even seconds after it was over: I'm excited beyond belief for a possible rematch of the 2008 NBA Finals this coming June.

A disclaimer right off the bat: Those expecting an explanation for this feeling involving some rant about how much better than the Lakers the Celtics are and how I'm looking forward to pounding the Lakers into submission in the spring will be sorely disappointed.  Yes, I'm a fan, which is short for fanatic, and I fully believe that the Celtics will be better than the Lakers and the NBA's other 28 teams come June.  I also like winning and would relish the opportunity to watch the Celts blow the Lakers off the floor if it presented itself.  But that's not what this feeling is about.

Last night was the fifth of February.  This is supposed to be the dead air space of the NBA season.  Not yet at the trading deadline, not yet in the post-All-Star break rejuvenation-stretch run phase, just plodding along night by night in the marathon of an NBA season, in which too often not everyone seems interested every time out.

None of that was evident on this Thursday night in Beantown.  Watching this game on a moderately-sized television set in a small living room more than 1,000 miles away, I felt enveloped by the action as though I was in its very midst right from the start.  The electric atmosphere at the New Garden came through loud and clear, from the "Beat LA!" chants that permeated the building throughout the evening to the crowd staying on its feet through significant portions of the game. 

The fellows on the hardwood more than matched the intensity in the stands.  Everybody involved truly wanted this one.  There was no loafing back late into plays, no loose ball or out of bounds call that went uncontested.  Every rebound was a struggle.  Just a two or three-bucket swing in either direction sufficed to completely swing the mood in the building.   

Several routine plays and tussles got the contestants' blood boiling.  Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo aren't buds these days.  Same goes for Kevin Garnett and Lamar Odom.  Or Kendrick Perkins and, you know, the rest of the free world - but especially the part of that world that either wears purple and gold.  It's tempting to suggest that these teams really don't like each other, but that would be an abuse of the literary technique of understatement. 

Down the stretch, we saw the captain of one team continue his own personal defensive renaissance that began a season ago, working his tail off to stay with the opposing team's star on every play.  On at least three occasions, one of the world's finest basketball players still managed to hit a difficult three-pointer over him.  No shame to be had, just a tip of the hat to the man who made the play.  On several other plays, the captain forced that same player into attempts that even he couldn't hit.  A tip of the cap right back to the captain.

It was that type of environment all night.  The crowd was always on the edge of its seat.  No one was ever out of this game.  When the buzzer sounded to end regulation, it finally occurred to me to put my hand to my cheek and realize that my face felt burnt, that my body temperature had actually risen that much due to the physical strain of simply watching the game.  By the time the extra period began, I was shaking.  And this is February!

It didn't turn out the way I wanted it to, and as someone who isn't a good loser, I didn't take that too well.  But there was a rare overriding feeling the whole way for me, that no matter how it ended, this game was part of building something special.  This was best versus best (or at least two of the three best, depending on how one views the Cavs), and it came down to the very end.  Past the very end of the normally allotted time, in fact

The part that truly gets one's blood racing is that neither team played its best basketball.  This game had its bouts of sloppiness, and indeed there was a fair amount of complaining about the officials, which is something I have no desire to address right this second.  What I know is this: Seeing the passion and energy in that building last night makes the idea of a seven-game series in June astoundingly fun.

It could land me in the hospital.  It could land me in custody.  But, wow, witnessing a series between these two teams when they are at their respective bests and playing for all the marbles would be a heckuva way to conclude this 2008-09 NBA campaign.

Until then, here's to more exciting winter basketball and to enjoying every second of the ride.