Monday, March 12, 2012

Reality Strikes...

Reality is tough to handle at times, especially in sports.

Yesterday it became quite clear for the Celtics and Knicks that their seasons are pretty much over, but in different fashions.

As the Celtics and Lakers battled back in forth at the Staples Center yesterday with post season intensity it most likely marked the last time these two teams will go head to head as currently constituted, which is pretty sad as these battles since the 07-08 season both during the regular season and on two occurrences the NBA Finals have been nothing short of epic. Yesterdays thriller which was once again decided in the final minute was another gem. While the Celtics had the Lakers right where they wanted them at 94-89 with under 3 minutes to play they couldn't slam the door shut as the jumpers stopped falling and the Laker size advantage up front and the greatness of Kobe Bryant was too much. 

Up one point with the ball Paul Pierce had Andrew Bynum on him after yet another Laker switch but the ball found Ray Allen's somewhat hot hand. While Ray Allen is terrific in the clutch he is at his best when a decision on his end does not have to be made, meaning it is clear before the ball meets his hands that it is then going up to the rim. Allen is a finisher, whether his feet are set behind the 3-point line or he is streaking to the rim on the break he is at his best and most dangerous as a finisher. His decision to not go back to Pierce with the ball and instead force a leaning jumper off the dribble from the left side, which miss fired, was a costly one for the Celtics as the Lakers took the lead on the next possession. Again, like their visit to Boston earlier in the season and in Game 7 of the 2010 finals it was the Lakers size up front which was the difference. Andrew Bynum battled all day and was determined to be the difference against the undersized Celtics. While the eastern conference is not exactly being dominated by interior play there is no way the Celtics can continue to live and die with the jump shot without being able to control the boards and score inside and expect to go very far in the east. While their heart, team defense and togetherness will keep me watching and hoping it is very clear they will not be deep enough to be a real threat come playoff time. With Jermaine O'Neal, Chris Wilcox and now Greg Stiemsma out things keep getting tougher for the green.

The Knicks are a different story. New York has stock piled a deep and talented roster of players that you would think all be STARVING for team success as they have exactly one NBA Championship ring collectively on the roster. With plenty of fire power, star power and versatility this team and staff appears to be clueless as to how to put the pieces together. While the meshing of new talent during a condensed season is a challenge it is not rocket science and not impossible, this is pro basketball, not the occupation of a third world country. So while losing games is of course going to happen, losing in the fashion the Knicks have been doing so as of late should be viewed as unacceptable to all fans, management and the staff. 

Where is the desperation? Where is the passion? Where is the pride of representing New York? Heck, I am a Celtics fan but I am thoroughly embarrassed when I see the camera cut to Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire sitting on the bench with blank stares on their face trailing at home to the division leading Sixers. How about you show some support for the guys on the floor who are your teammates? How about you come out and compete defensively from the tip? As easy as it is to place blame on Coach D'Antoni which I have done frequently when do the very well paid and highly talented players become accountable? Are you telling me Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Baron Davis, Jeremy Lin, Landry Fields, JR Smith, Steve Novak, Jarred Jeffries, and Iman Shumpert can't figure out how to play hard and together at both ends? It is beyond rational understanding at this point. This team should be a defensive hungry transition machine as they have the pieces to pressure the perimeter, foot speed to close out and rotate and the center to be an anchor in the paint. But they have to work together to get it done. Tyson Chandler can not be Tyson Chandler unless his teammates do their jobs. Why did Dallas win a title last year with Chandler as an important piece? Because everyone bought in on both ends of the court. 

You can talk about the "system" that D'Antoni has become famous for, featuring pick n rolls which lead to countless easy baskets and open 3's when run properly and you talk about the players needing to get to know each other all you want but the bottom line is simply this, when the players are willing to compete like they are fighting for their jobs and leave their egos at home then and only then will this team get on the track it needs to in order to fulfill its potential and properly represent the city which it represents. Right now, there is no sign of that close to happening. 

I am thankful the team I am passionate about is the one that battles you to the bone with less rather than one that does less with more. 

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