Celtics & Lakers: A Contrast in Faith – Who Was Right? | Red's Army - The Voice of Boston Celtics Fans
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Celtics & Lakers: A Contrast in Faith – Who Was Right?


The Lakers and Celtics are
similar in some ways. Each is made of a mix of older vets and younger
players. The Lakers chose to go all-out for most of this regular season.
Kobe injured various parts of his body – broken finger, strained
ligaments, twisted ankle, wrenched back, and god-knows-what-else – but
played through it all. They dialed it back a little toward the end, but
the Lakers still earned a pretty good regular-season record: best in the
West, 3rd best in the league.

The Celtics went in the opposite direction. They started hot, got
themselves a great record in the first third of the season, then…
injuries happened, and they dialed it back. Way back, as it turned out.
For the rest of the season, the Celtics mostly brought their B game (at
best). It drove their fans nuts. It drove some fans to lose faith, and
some to actually boo them at home. The boos happened twice: first vs.
Memphis – when everybody on the team said it was helpful – and then
again vs. the Wizards, 4 games from season's end, when KG responded by
muttering that the booing fans should stay home. They just didn't get
it, he felt. Was he right?

Were the Lakers right to work so hard to build an excellent regular
season record, and thus have HCA in every Western Conference series? Or
were the Celtics right to ignore HCA and focus on getting to the
playoffs fully healthy?

Here's what we know so far….. Not only is Kobe a walking wreck now,
his whole team looks intermittently beat up and exhausted. Even when
they have a good game, like Game 5 of the 1st round, Kobe is under par. 
So one issue is the physical one – when you work that hard in the
regular season – ESPECIALLY when you're an older team – you get beat up
in a hundred ways, which inevitably takes its toll in the playoffs.

And there's the psychological factor. When you've brought your A game so
often in the regular season, it's hard to keep bringing that top level
of urgency and focus night after night. It becomes easier to bring it
SOME of the time. This is, again, especially true when you're not a
young, excited team, but a veteran group that's been-there-done-that for
all of it.

On the other hand, when you haven't brought your A game for about 3
months, it's not only easier to bring it in the playoffs – you
feel like you HAVE TO bring it, because the fans have earned it… your
PRIDE has earned it. And, once again, this is especially true when
you're a veteran team.

And this what we've seen unfold.

The Lakers are now locked in mortal combat with OKC, the 8th seed. The
best they can hope for is 6 games. And Kobe continues to struggle. The
Celtics, meanwhile, are done with first round fairly easily, 4-1, and
are coasting to the next one.

The concept of “flipping a switch”, which started out as some nutty blog
theory, or something Sheed would spout from time to time (in between
his tirades about the refs), is now in every news story about the
Celtics. Now it's reality.

The Celtics are not alone in having adopted this approach to the regular
season vs. the second season. The Spurs did it too, and they too are
succeeding – from the 7th seed. Seeding diminishes to almost zero
importance when compared with health, and Pop-&-Doc were canny
enough to have realized that AND acted upon it.

So the verdict seems to be in. Celtics got it right. Lakers got it
wrong. More than that: I believe the Lakers were NUTS to let Kobe play
injured, as they did. Why do that? He should CERTAINLY have taken 4-6
weeks off, gotten that finger fixed, gotten his whole body fixed and
rested, so he could be whole for the playoffs. But something was missing
in L.A.'s collective head. Confidence, probably. Vision. Discipline.
Faith. Or maybe it was just that the Lakers didn't go through what the
Celtics went through in 2009 – when the Cs learned firsthand how
absolutely vital it is to bring a HEALTHY team into the playoffs.
Nothing is more important. (You could argue that that should be obvious
to everyone – but it's not. Don't ask me why.)

What does this mean to the NBA? They can't have ALL teams soft-pedaling
the regular season – who would watch them? It's a real, structural
problem for the league… and too big to fully address here. In short:
the problem is that the reward for doing well in the regular season
(HCA) is insufficient to properly motivate teams. The problem exists
because the NBA greedily created two clashing elements: an 82-game
regular season AND an expanded 8-team playoff structure. Can't have
both. So one solution (and I'm sure there are others) is to give the top
2 teams in each conference a bye in the first round. There would be two
fewer playoff series, but in return, the regular season would really
MEAN something.

And what about us fans? What about the ones who booed our guys in the
Wizards game? And those that thought it was a good idea? And all those
who lost faith and believed the Cs were dead in the water? What do we
learn from all this?

We learn that when there is a reasonable explanation for something our
team is doing – even if you don't like it, even if you HATE it – we
should still accept that explanation, and continue to support and
believe in our team
– until we're proven wrong, if that ever

We don't know if the Celtics will win it all this year. They certainly
can. But it's a hard thing to do… there are a LOT of great teams out
there, and any one of them could beat us. But we know now that the Cs
are HERE. They're READY. Their switch is FLIPPED. And they are not going
to stop until they climb the mountain and claim the ring… or fall
down trying.

From now on, and in all the years to come… we need to support them.
Let's not forget the lesson of 2010. Never lose faith, while faith is
still possible.

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  • Matt

    Not bashing your this article but Paul Pierce did basically the same thing. He even admitted he rushed his comeback.

  • Uncle Leo

    Kobe isn’t a walking wreck, he looks good and the way he smothered one of the youngest and most athletic point guards in the league last night was amazing for a 31 year old. His shot has been off all season since the finger injury so that’s not going away but the legs are definitely better. I don’t think you can compare that to being sidelined like Garnett was last year for the playoffs. Injuries can happen even if you try to dial it back to stay healthy for the playoffs. It’s mostly luck in that department.
    The good news is that the cavs are still super overrated and the celts will have every opportunity to win this series.

  • i’m gonna get boo’d for being a cynic, but I’ll really keep my fingers crossed that LeBron’s not 100% in this series.
    There are too many factors not working in our favor in this series. We don’t have HCA like we did in 2008, and that one boiled down to game 7 in Boston with Pierce playing out of his mind. And LeBron’s arguably better than he was two years ago and will play harder for his impending free agency summer.
    The Refs are definitely not going to call in our favor, which may prove fatal in Cleveland, like Rose’s continuation play last night, which was a 5 point swing and the bulls lost by 2.
    Cleveland is a lot deeper than before albeit a lack familiarity of the system for some of their players..shaq/jamison. Varejao and Jamison are a cause of concern. Hopefully Shaq or Z will get most of Varejao’s minutes.
    Our bench needs to step up big. Especially Sheed. As it’s being said by many of u before, this is the series for him to prove his worth. And TA needs a good game playing tenacious defense on James, preferably in Cleveland. Maybe we’ll get a House scenario in game 6 or 7 with Nate playing a big game.
    like DRJ said we need to keep our faith. I still like our chances. All these factors coupled with the media writing the C’s off will make the victory that much sweeter. And hope ATL give Orland hell

  • scratch

    I love my C’s but “flip the switch” is just an organizational excuse for poor, uninspired play. I’d love to be wrong but I see this Cleveland series going to Cleveland in six with at least one bad 20+ point loss on the parquet. The Miami series really only proved how bad Miami is; I can’t imagine any team being interested in signing O’Neal next year, Beasley is lucky he’s only 21. Get used to the “should we trade Paul Pierce” talk…

  • Joseph

    “So the verdict seems to be in. Celtics got it right. Lakers got it wrong.”
    I guess if getting it “right” is ending up as the #4 seed so you can play the #1 seed (you know the team with the best record in the NBA) in the 2nd round of the playoffs, then yea the Suckdics did good. Everyone knows that the Suckdics f’d up when they didn’t get the 3 seed. With the 3 seed, they could have avoided Cleveland until the Eastern conference finals. Now they got Cleveland in the second round, another early exit for the Suckdics

  • The Boston Celtics and the Oklahoma City Thunder had identical records going into the playoffs.
    The Thunder are an 8th seed in the West. The Celtics were the 4th seed.

  • Great post, certainly will generate some buzz.
    The point seems to be support and believe in your team, no matter what. I agree with half. I supported them through the late 90’s and early 00’s, after they lost to the Sixers in the ECF they were MISERABLE. I supported them, cheered for them, bought tickets and enjoyed the games for what they were, PP and ‘Toine shows.
    Should I believe in those teams? Hell no. Do I have a right to go to the game, and let the ownership, management, and coaching hear my boos? Yes. They were putting a sub-par product on the floor. Same as the players putting a sub-par effort on the floor against the Griz and the Wiz.
    I love this team and will always support them. But if they are not expending effort, either on the floor or the front office, they deserve to be booed. Folks weren’t booing the fact that they rested Pierce for a game or two. They were boo’ing the obviously awful effort and execution on the floor. I do think that if there was such a thing as ‘the right kind of boo’, (like good fat?), that for two games they deserved to hear it.
    Ultimately, let’s see how it ends in June. Right now, I would 10x prefer having our guys healthy vs. HCA against the Cavs so it would appear that the Philosopher may have miscalculated… for now.

  • Shawn-cvd

    Finally you made a good point . Lets be big picture thinkers for a moment… As championship contenders the Celtics would face the magic and the Cavs to win the East. When it became clear that they couldn’t catch the 2nd seed to have hca against Orlando there was no tangible difference between the 3 and 4 seeds. In both cases the C’s start on the road.

  • DRJ

    True, Paul did the same KIND of thing. But Kobe did it 10 times worse. He played through a BROKEN FINGER, ferkrissakes… which of course is now arthritic, etc. Really… there’s no excuse for that. Just crazy.

  • DRJ

    Kobe is much less than he was even last year. He’s got problems everywhere now. And even in his best game – last night – he went 4-9. They’re still a great team, but only intermittently now, and Kobe is no longer the Kobe we knew.

  • DRJ

    Agree, Sheed is going to be needed in this one. This is his time to FINALLY step up. And it’s true they’re better… but so are the Cs, in some ways… Rondo is much better, and Perk WAS better (before he lost all semblance of an offense), Sheed is POTENTIALLY better than PJ was, and we are seeing more instances when all of the Big 3 are on their game.
    I hate to agree about the refs, but yeah, don’t think they’ll be doing us any favors. I only hope for a FAIR series… no favors, just be FAIR, please.

  • DRJ

    Oh ye of little faith……

  • DRJ

    Agree with the booing in the Memphis game. Disagree with it in the Wizards game, 4 from the end, in a game that did not matter at all. Of course fans have the “right” to boo. But WAS it right? No, I don’t think so. I like KG’s response…

  • Uncle Leo

    He’s averaging 27-5-5 this series while facing the best and most intelligent perimeter defender in the league(sefolosha), playing defense vs westbrook, and essentially playing the point. It’s almost miraculous.
    The media is just repeating this notion that makes it seem like he’s just gone off a cliff because they have no other story to regurgitate. Obviously he’s slowed down and not as explosive but that’s not his game anymore and it hasn’t been for like three years now. It just pisses me off when the hive mind of sports media decides to hop on a story that they all have been waiting to write and everyone else just accepts it without deciding for themselves.
    Orlando is a monster by the way. Anyone who knew anything realized the magic not having Jameer for the playoffs was as big as the celts not having Garnett, and Orlando still making it to the finals was amazing. Now that they have him back that team is ridiculous and are the real threat in the east and will annihilate the cavs if they play each other.

  • Perry

    If you asked Doc, Pop, or Phil Jackson about their chances of winning a series without home court all would agree it could be accomplished. But if you shot them up with truth serum they would admit the path to winning a title is more palatable playing a game 7 in front of your home crowd.
    There’s no excuse for an older, contending team to dial it back. First, they are being paid a kings ransom to produce game to game. Even in the dog days of a season great teams never let up. Given the 82 game schedule, and back-to-backs, there will be poor play, but you can’t blame ticket holders for booing if the effort is not there.
    Does Ray Allen, Kevin or Paul approach a regular season game at half speed? Of course not. If any professional approached their craft in a manner where they put off today what could be done tomorrow it compromises their integrity and success. I don’t think anyone can profess to the Celtics not working hard. Their problems started on the injury front, later compounded by chemistry issues resulting in a lack of focus.
    Getting out of the first round does not validate an admission that the regular season is inconsequential. If that were the case we would see more low seeds win titles. Doesn’t happen to often in the NBA, but certainly the Celts have their chance at making some history.

  • DRJ

    It’s true, we are facing the best 2 teams in the league in our next 2 series. Agree… Orlando is a monster. But they have their weaknesses too… if you can stop Jameer, and get Dwight to foul himself out of the game……… oh, and don’t forget to guard the 3-pt line. Ugh. Tough, tough battles are coming.
    As for Kobe… when I watch him, he looks MUCH worse than he was 2 years ago in the playoffs. And I don’t see those numbers you mentioned, here: http://www.nba.com/playerfile/kobe_bryant/index.html
    2010 so far:
    21.8 ppg,, 4.6 apg, 3.4 rpg, plus 3.2 TOs per game. His FG% is just 38.9%.
    Back in 08, his FG% was 47.9%, and he was getting 30.1 ppg, 5.6 apg, 5.7 rpg. The numbers are similar for the 09 playoffs.
    The falloff this year is very dramatic. And the blame can clearly be placed on all those injuries he played through and refused to allow to heal. The media stories look true, this time anyway… and the Lakers were absolutely NUTS to allow him to play through those injuries — most especially the broken finger. What could they possibly have been thinking???

  • DRJ

    You’re right, it hasn’t happened very often. That’s why it’s so interesting that the Cs (and Spurs) are doing it this year. If one of them wins the ring, the NBA will have a problem to solve. It has plenty of problems anyway…. the CBA, lockout possibilities…. and now, it may also have the problem of teams soft-pedaling the regular season.
    It’s a problem — the fact that there is not enough built-in motivation to amass a great record in the regular season. I like the byes-for-the-top-2 answer… but it’s way complicated, and probably going to be ignored anyway.
    Tell you what. Let’s have the Cs make history… we can count the bodies later. 🙂

  • Lakerhater(FD)

    Celtics match up much better with the lebrons than the hawks. You should spend more time worrying about OKC or whatever junior college the fakers are trying to overcome.

  • Coma

    Interesting idea about the top seeds having a bye in the first round. It would really reward teams for playing hard in the regular season. Maybe 7 playoff teams in each conference then to make the brackets work out?
    Also, not sure if the Miami Heat and OKC Thunder are really comparable teams. Lakers might have been able to finish off Miami in 5 like the C’s and likewise, the C’s might of needed 6 games to beat the Thunder but who knows.

  • SydneyCeltic

    Great post and I agree on pretty much all points. While the losses during the regular season made me angry, I never lost faith. I always thought we’d pull it out in the end. There has to be a bigger picture here that we, as fans, aren’t seeing.
    I’m not looking forward to the series against the Cavs. I mean, I am and I’m not, all at the same time. We’ve beaten them before, we can do it again.
    I have to admit, I’m terrified of the off season.

  • Shawn-cvd

    Great read Dr J! Any Celtic fan losing faith should give this a read.

  • Joseph

    Junior College? Interesting. I guess a junior college team has the identical record as the Suckdics this year (50-32). What does that tell you about the Suckdics? It sould tell you two things:
    1) The Suckdics would be the 8th seed in the West.
    2) It tells me, another second round exit for the Suckdics. HAHAHA

  • DRJ

    Thx, Shawn. It’s been good to see our steadiness of faith vindicated. Now… just 12 more… that’s all we ask 🙂