I promised my friend I wouldn't mention it. Heck, I promised myself I wouldn't mention it. But it relates to the Celtics, in a way that still hurts.
The Patriots lost yesterday, and it was one of those losses that keep you from watching SportsCenter for the next week. One of those losses that makes the drinkers drink, and the non-drinkers think about drinking. One of the losses that you beg your friends not to talk about, then walk upstairs and hate your friend's mom for saying, "Tom Brady let us down today. They just didn't have a sense of urgency."
Wrote Kevin Garnett on his blog:
"Weekend was slow and went as a team to the Patriots game. They lost and the stadium was in shock. Crazy that they were supposed to be the best team and now they are out. That is why I want our guys to see that we can’t take anything for granted and we need to play as if we could be eliminated."
But the Celtics should already know that. At least every Celtic who played in Boston last season. Two games to win one, and they couldn't get it done. Kobe and co. defended their home court, the Lakers dominated the glass, and Derek Fisher and Ron Artest drained big shot after big shot. Yes, Ron Artest drained big shots. Three-pointers, even. Somebody please meet me at the nearest 20-story building, and talk me down. Please.
The point is, nothing comes easy in professional sports. Especially not in the playoffs. We like to think of the Patriots as a team that out-executes its opponents in big games. We like to think of the Patriots as a team that doesn't make mistakes, and never crumbles to pressure. We like to think of the Patriots as a well-oiled machine designed to methodically destroy its opponents, one smart play at a time. And then Tom Brady overthrew a running back while the Pats are driving, Alge Crumpler dropped an easy touchdown catch, Patrick Chung mishandled a fake-punt snap on what would have been a simple fourth-down conversion, and the Pats forgot that the no-huddle offense exists. Suddenly, I was six feet from the ledge, and I was thinking, "Maybe six feet ain't so far down."
Of course, the Patriots' loss meant zero to me, at least relative to the Celtics' loss. I cried when the C's lost, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. As fans we put so much into a season. We invest ourselves emotionally. We ride with our team when they finish the season 27-27, and -- even when all hope seems lost -- we watch every night just in case the sinking ship fixes its leak. We become captivated when our previously lifeless team, which looked too old and injured and disinterested to compete for a championship, suddenly morphs into the team we always hoped it would be.
We rally around our guys when Kevin Garnett throws an errant elbow in Quentin Richardson's direction. We jump out of our seats with admiration and awe when Rondo scores 29 points, along with 18 rebounds and 13 assists, to beat Cleveland, and -- at some point that day, I think -- we really start to believe. We wonder why LeBron James doesn't play hard, but it doesn't really matter to us -- our guys hand him his butt on a silver platter, and our team moves on, and our belief just keeps growing.
We watch our favorite team leap all over the previously playoff-unbeaten Orlando Magic, and suddenly our team is one win away from the NBA Finals, and we rejoice. We fleetingly wonder where this effort was all year, but in the end what does it really matter? They're playing well when it counts, and they're pantsing the Magic on national television, and life is good.
Dwight Howard throws a few elbows at our guys, and, sitting at home with no way to retaliate against Orlando's behemoth center, our eyes offer a steely resolve. Howard and his crew take two games, but our favorite team finally breaks through in Game 6, and the NBA Finals are here. And so is Kobe, and Derek Fisher, and Pau Gasol. We hate these guys, but we respect them like no other team.
Our team is in for a dog fight, we know, and a small part of us wonders, "How did the Celtics even get this far?" But the regular season is nothing but a faded memory, a long but unimportant stretch of mediocrity. The NBA Finals. We can't believe this is happening. Not this year. Not after everything the Celtics went through. We pinch ourselves, and it hurts, and we know it's not a dream.
Five games later, the Celtics rest on the verge of an NBA championship. Two games to win one, and, well, you know the rest. It all ends with Bill Russell handing Kobe Bryant his Finals MVP trophy, and if that sight doesn't make you want to projectile vomit, you've never been a Celtics fan. I cry, we cry, Tony Allen cries, Kevin Garnett cries, Rasheed Wallace retires, and the Celtics' future is unstable. Thankfully, Doc Rivers returns and Ray Allen and Paul Pierce follow his lead. The guys return for another run at it, another chance to write a sequel to '08.
Fast forward a few months, to the present.
The Celtics are one of three or four favorites to win an NBA title. Everything looks good, except for Jermaine O'Neal's tenuous injury situation. Rajon Rondo has become an evolutionary John Stockton without a jumper, and his superstar teammates drink from the fountain of youth on a regular basis. Kevin Garnett's injury, they tell us, isn't serious. Kendrick Perkins should return February 4, and Delonte West will join him on the court soon after that. These Celtics are poised for a title shot, and anything less would disappoint.
But as much as coaches would like them to be, sports aren't scripted. Even the favorites fall, if they don't execute like they should. To take the script analogy further, the script only goes according to plan if the actor's play their roles during every scene. If one actor forgets his lines, the script fails. Actually, after mistakes in acting, the director yells "cut!" and the actor receives a do-over. After mistakes in sports, the opposing team grabs rebound... after rebound... after rebound, and a championship slips through your fingers.
The Patriots demonstrated one more time that nothing's certain in professional sports. But that's a lesson these Celtics should have already learned.