We got out toughed. We didn't play with toughness. This team doesn't have the mental toughness. The other team was tougher than we were. They came out with more aggressiveness. They had more energy, more fire... The list goes on and on and on, all saying the exact same thing: The other team didn't win because they were better. The other team won because they Played Harder (TM). I, for one, am starting to feel like this narrative is getting a little bit old. In the past 11 games, according to some, 11 have been won by none other than toughness. Either the Celtics were tougher or the other team was tougher. Nothing else is particularly important here. Well, except for when the Celtics shoot well from 3, then that's not toughness, that's just luck. Nothing to do with the hours of practice needed to get good open shots in the NBA or anything. I just feel like there's so much more that can be said. There are so many interesting factors that just get swept under the rug under the guise of toughness.
The toughness narrative trivializes the incredible coaching battle we have been witnessing, since the coaches seem to have no role in the outcome of the game besides being cheerleaders. Spoelstra forcing Tatum and Brown into the paint in traffic because he noticed their tendency to bring the ball low when they drive. Udoka counterpunching by keeping the wings higher on the arc to give them better passing angles before the traffic came. Spoelstra coming back the next game, running the offense through Bam Adebayo, getting him going, and once again guiding Tatum and Brown into traffic, but this time, forcing them towards the strong-side corner, giving them an extra "defender" in the sideline. All these things played a major factor in the outcomes of the games, but we don't talk about any of that. We just talk about how tough everybody was.
I think on this blog, it is used as a kind of superiority complex as well. Everybody says the Celtics are the better team, but the Heat are winning games because they are bringing more energy. The Miami Heat are the #1 SEED. On paper, the Celtics are the underdogs. What, just because we have the high draft picks and a lot of these guys are second rounders and late bloomers, we are just automatically better than them? They are an incredibly deep team that legitimately have 8-9 players that, by rights, could be starting on a playoff team. Where they might not necessarily have the individual talent, you are looking at a team that has a roster brimming with guys who could drop 30 on you if you aren't careful. The Heat are the Celtics' equal and they are playing like it.
Toughness is a key factor in winning games and losing focus can easily snowball into big problems in a game with such small margins as professional basketball. However, if that was the only factor, we should just roll out a bunch of O-linemen and call it a day and replace out coach with a motivational speaker. Sometime, the Celtics got outhustled. But, more often, I saw the Celtics getting out-planned, falling into traps the Heat set, and finding ways around it. I find that to be a more compelling narrative than it just always being a problem of energy.