Bouncing Back, Plus a Few Thoughts

I decided not to let the sore back completely get the best of me so, before heading out with my little guy to get him a few comic books at a cool campus store, I went for my daily run. Fairly well stretched out and rested after the 11-hour sleep catch-up and yesterday as my day off from running, it felt surprisingly good despite the back issues. I was able to go at a good pace. Plus, about halfway through, it started to dawn on me–the Celtics are one game away from winning the NBA championship for the first time in 21 years. That also means one game away from Index-Finger Time–that special feeling that we as Yankees fans have known so well (albeit not for seven years plus running), when you have the ultimate sports conversational trump in the pocket, when no matter how badly the day goes, when no matter what guff others are trying to dish out about your team, you always have that index finger. When your team is the best, it’s nothing short of a great feeling, the ultimate sense that you don’t have to take anything from anybody.

They moved into that dominant position by adding to their Game 4 lore. While on the receiving end of Magic’s game-winning running hook in Game 4 of the 1987 Finals, the Celtics won an absolutely vital Game 4 match-up in the 1984 Finals, when McHale’s clothes-line of Kurt Rambis on a breakaway turned the series physically and psychologically in the Celtics favor, rattling and distracting the angered Lakers while upping the ante in already keenly intense rivalry. Not to be overlooked in recent history, the Celtics took Game 4 of the 1986 Finals against a game Houston with the Twin Towers of Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson. They responded from a close Game 3 loss to take a tight Game 4, when Bird hit a huge 3 to snap a 101-all tie, and Big Bill Walton dunked home a rebound to cinch the game.

Last night’s comeback joined those games and others without question. Pierce and Allen were furious, Eddie House and James Posey helped carry a listless team and keep them in the game, KG was intense and better from the field. Most importantly, the Celtics have an extra defensive gear that the Lakers–and most teams–lack. They can ratchet things up and clamp down defensively better than any team in the NBA. It’s as much will as skill–the refusal to yield, the willingness to hit the boards and the deck, the anticipation to close off and step into passing lanes, the ability to turn the tables–in a game when the Lakers ruled the first half–and turn the momentum. Just remarkable. While running, I also remembered that I said on The Sommer Frieze after Tuesday’s Game 3 loss that the Celtics would win Game 4. While I certainly didn’t envision such a dramatic comeback, especially one I’d be too tired to watch, it’s nice to have called one, at the risk of being immodest.

But it’s rooted in confidence in that team, and particularly certain qualities. The Celtics, best exemplified by KG and Pierce, have an iron will, a palpable determination that has made all the difference in a series in which hard work has paid direct dividends more than in most Finals I remember. They just don’t give up. Nor do they or Allen ever seem to get tired. In addition to his smooth jumper, I’ve always said that the most amazing thing about watching Allen play is that he never looks tired. Watch him during games–he almost never has his mouth open, even in up-and-down segments, or running past a screen to get open and hit a 3. These guys are in remarkable shape. A brief but telling anecdote. KG arrived early one morning to the Celtics facility, hours before practice which is not unusual for him. Used to being the hardest-working and most determined player in Minnesota, he arrived that first morning to find both Pierce and Allen involved in separate but equally grueling running and exercise routines, themselves having arrived hours before others, even KG. At that point, KG apparently knew he was with the right team, one with the right mentality and leadership, starting with the value of hard work and perseverance.

Even if the Lakers win Game 5, which is iffy, I believe they’ve been excoriated with last night’s Celtics comeback. I said before the series the Celtics in 7. Shave at least a game off that.

I see that Shelley has been sent down to SWB and disgraced former attorney general Alberto Gonzales has been called up. Good, to me, not only because Shelley wasn’t playing well and wouldn’t or should get at-bats ahead of the hotter hitting Giambi, but also because this move should have one player shaking–Cano. Halfway through June, it is quite simply unacceptable to have a fairly big-money second baseman of immense talent in Cano batting .220, continuing to chase bad pitches out of the zone, failing to hit in the clutch, and most annoyingly inflicting hasty at-bats on the team and the pitcher. The next time Cano screws up in such fashion, he should sit the next game or two, preferably two. I’d let him watch and hopefully think about how he’s been doing things and preparing for games, both physically and mentally. It’s the latter that appears to have been most deficient, and I truly hope that the presence of Gonzales, a pretty decent bat and a very slick glove, instills a degree of Tough Love that the Tough Love Magical Mystery Tour here and at The Sommer Frieze have failed to do, despite our best efforts.

To me, Cano could use a lesson from this year’s Celtics team. Focus and effort can go a long way, every bit as much if not more than talent alone.

People would be well served reading Bryan Hoch’s terrific piece on the special relationship between Joba Chamberlain and his father Harlan, whom many of us must feel that we know.  Check out “In Joba’s Heart, Dad Rules” at the Yankees home page at http://www.yankees.com for a very good piece on their close bond, how it developed, and some keen insights on values.

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Published in: on June 13, 2008 at 3:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

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