After looking at different ways to expand this sites viewership, I emailed the Sports Gab Network to see if they were interested in the Boston Sports Journal.
I was pleasantly surprised when they asked me instead if I’d like to be the editor of Patriots Gab and Celtics Gab. I accepted because this will give me the opportunity to reach a larger audience.
So first, I’d like to thank everyone who has read BSJ, and I hope you read my Patriots Gab (http://www.patriotsgab.com//) and Celtics Gab (http://www.celticsgab.com/). I won’t be changing my style or anything, and I’ll still post my articles here and answer comments.
April 7, 2011 was a very bad day to be a Boston sports fan. First we had to watch the Red Sox head home win-less, starting the season 0-6, and then we had to endure a thrashing via the Chicago Bulls. And that’s an understatement, which is appropriate because prior to this game, I thought Rose and the Bulls were kings of exaggeration.
Over the summer, when LeBron was conducting his tour of America, word leaked that Rose wasn’t rolling out the red carpet for the mega-star. He didn’t want LeBron, allegedly because he wanted the Bulls to be his team and he didn’t want someone else dominating the ball. Naturally people thought this was ridiculous. Rose was good and all, but he hadn’t even led the Bulls past the first round, let alone led a team to the finals or to 60+ wins in two straight seasons as James had.
Then, in September, Rose said to his team’s media guide, “Why can’t I be MVP? Why can’t I be the best player in the league?”
This was after Rose, playing for the USA basketball team, finished 5th on the team in scoring, with 7.2 ppg. Kevin Durant led the team with 22.8 ppg. No one else cracked double-digits.
It made no sense.
Then, the other day, Rose asked, “Why can’t we win the championship?”
I thought, because the Celtics and Lakers are both better than you.
But it turns out Rose isn’t an idiot, and he isn’t on drugs.
This Chicago Bulls team is scary good.
I saw the Bulls play in person in November. I spent the entire game watching Rose. I was in awe. Until you see him play in person, preferably sitting in the nosebleeds, you can’t comprehend how good he is–the nosebleeds help because you get a better idea of how quickly he gets from one end to the other. He is just SO much faster than everyone else on the court. Words really can’t do it justice.
Anyway, it was a great game, went into overtime, but the Celtics won by 5. The Bulls were playing without Boozer, but I still came away thinking the team will be really good in a year or two. But now, after this game, I’m shocked. What the hell did Thibodeau do to this team? I realize they’ve been ranked one of the top two defensive teams for a while now, but I had no idea they were this good. They are the clear-cut best defensive team in the NBA, and it’s not close.
During one play Ray Allen penetrated, jumped in the air, and then not knowing whether to shoot or pass because the defender’s (Taj Gibson?) intentions confused him, he just kind of chucked it at the defender. It symbolized the game perfectly. The Celtics just looked confused. Absolutely befuddled. It was unlike nothing I’ve ever seen.
After that play my dad said it looked like the JV playing against the varsity team.
And it did. Paul Pierce could do absolutely nothing against Deng, Allen couldn’t get anything going against Bogans/Brewer/Korver, and Rondo just got embarrassed by Rose–Rondo was a -14 and Rose was +24. None of the three could work their man one-on-one, but every time they got a pick, their was a wall in the way with Noah, Thomas, Boozer, or Gibson coming out perfectly. It was textbook Thibodeau defense. And getting it to KG worked for a while, but for some reason, as always, they went away from it.
I think part of the shock and awe campaign the Bulls just threw down can be attributed to this game meaning a lot to them; it was a statement game. Not only did this make them the number 1 seed, but it put an exclamation point on it and said we’re the number one seed for a reason, and we’re going to give you hell in the postseason. They needed that pep talk more than the Celtics, and that showed tonight. As the saying goes, playoff basketball is a completely different game from the regular season. The Bulls were playing playoff basketball last night. The Celtics were still in regular season mode. They clearly weren’t prepared.
Over the course of a seven game series, I still like the Celtics. Last night their age was a deficit. But in the playoffs, their experience will be the difference. And there is no way Rondo will allow himself to get humiliated by Rose for an entire series. After all, Rose is his arch-nemesis; the man he destroyed in 2009, putting up lines like this 19 pts, 12 rbs, 16 asts, 5 stls and this 25, 11, 11, and this 28, 8, 11. Granted that feels like it was a life-time ago, but Rondo won’t go down without a fight when they meet in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If nothing else, we know there will probably be some spilt blood and hurt feelings after it’s all said and done. It’s going to be awesome.
And for the record, Derrick Rose gets my vote for MVP. For a while I was on the Dwight Howard bandwagon, but Rose can lead his team in ways Howard simply can’t.
Tom Caron just described this as the end to one of the worst road trips in Red Sox history, and said that this is their worst start since 1945, when they started 0-8. That team had a legitimate excuse though. They were missing their four best players–Ted Williams, Bobby Doer, Dom DiMaggio, and Johnny Pesky–who were busy fighting a little thing called WWII. That substitute team finished 71-83.
The only other Sox teams to start this poorly played in 1927 and 1905. The 1927 team finished 51-103, the 1905 team, 78-71.
Not exactly good company.
There is some good news at the conclusion of this trip though.
First, Adrian Gonzalez has shown signs that he is everything the Red Sox hoped he would be when they traded for him. He’s hitting .304 with 1 hr and 5 RBI. Unfortunately, in 3 of the 6 games he went 0-for.
Second, Jon Lester pitched like a Cy Young candidate today, lowering his ERA to 3.65 by throwing 7 scoreless innings, allowing 3 hits, walking 3, and striking out 9.
Third, the 1953 Yankees lost 9 straight games but went on to win the World Series. Six other teams have lost seven straight games and gone on to win the World Series: the 1914 Braves, 1933 Giants, 1983 Orioles, 1990 Reds, 1991 Twins and the 2000 Yankees.
Obviously this is a less than ideal situation, and it will lead to a mass panic attack in Red Sox Nation. This was supposed to be the year the Sox compete for the championship again. This is one thing that has changed in my short fan life-time. With the success in the 00′s, Boston went from being a city that was obsessed with being cursed in every major sport, to thoroughly expecting their teams to get the best talent, and deliver with it.
When Theo went out and got Adrian, Carl Crawford and Bobby Jenks, everyone immediately thought the Sox would return to the promised land.
I have been one of the biggest champions of this, and I still think I’m right. But I don’t necessarily think it will be a cake walk.
In my opinion, the Red Sox will win the World Series because in the playoffs, they will have the best hitting, the best defense, the best bullpen, and two excellent starting pitchers. That is a proven recipe for success; one that the Red Sox followed in 2004 and 2007–minus the defense–and many other teams have also followed.
But it might take a little bit of time before we begin to see that team. After all, the Sox have a new left-fielder in Crawford, a new first baseman in Gonzalez, a new catcher in Saltalamacchia, a new third baseman in Youk, and three major players–Youk, Ellsbury, and Pedroia–returning from injury
I was talking to a Red Sox fan from Miami the other day, and he compared this team to the Miami Heat, when they added LeBron James and Chris Bosh. They struggled initially, as they all pushed to find their roles, and figure out how they would all mesh together.
Teamwork is far more important in basketball than baseball, but that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant in baseball. After all, there is a reason that throughout his career Carl Crawford is a better 2 hitter than 3. Lineup order matters for everyone.
When the Red Sox made these additions, the hot topic everyone wanted to guess at was: what will the lineup be? The options were plentiful, but any guess was good as another because who could know how they’d mesh. Francona didn’t even know, and it’ll take some time to figure that out. When Crawford finds his spot, he will hit better than .174.
The bullpen will be the same way. Francona will need to learn who to pitch in what situation, and what role each reliever will take. These things take time, and when you have a bunch of new guys it takes even longer to form any cohesion.
Many will point to the starting pitching and say that is a problem, but Sox fans know what they’re going to get. If you get 6 innings out of Dice-K or Beckett and they allow 3 or 4 runs you take it, because when the offense gets going, and the bullpen gets straightened out, that will lead to a win more often than not. Lester and Buchholz will have their off days–which their first starts clearly were–but they will pitch like aces. And everyone knows that for every 7 inning 2 run game Lackey pitchers, he’ll throw 5 and allow 9, but he’ll usually be around 7 and allow 4. That’s just the reality of this staff. But when the hitting gets going, that will be ok.
Right now the team batting average is .190. They’ll probably finish around.280.
This team will undoubtedly get better. Let’s just hope it begins to show this weekend against the Yankees.
On Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski, wrote, “The Celtics are going to finish as the third seed in the Eastern Conference, because Rivers is unwilling to chase the Heat for the second seed at the expense of extending minutes and risking injury and fatigue for the playoffs. They’ll also finish behind the Heat because they deserve to finish behind them, deserve to have to play a Game 7 in the conference semifinals on the shores of Biscayne Bay.”
This confused me for several reasons.
For one, Adrian has been trashing the Heat all season. A lot of that has to do with his animosity towards LeBron since the “Decision”, but he also criticized them for playing selfish basketball. And rightfully so. So how does that team deserve home-court more than a team that has played hard all season and played the right kind of basketball–sharing the ball to a fault and working on defense–, but suffered through some injuries and a trade that led to fluctuating rotations all year?
Secondly, the prediction made no sense. He said Rivers is unwilling to extend minutes to chase the Heat. Unless he expected the Celtics to lose to the 76ers last night, the two teams were poised to enter Wednesday morning tied at 54-23 with five games remaining. That isn’t much of a chase. And since when do the Celtics need to extend minutes to win basketball games?
Now that they’re tied up, neither team has a definite advantage.
The Celtics will face the Bulls Thursday, the Wizards Friday, the Heat Sunday, the Wizards again Monday, and the Knicks Wednesday.
The Heat will face the Bucks tonight, the Bobcats Friday, the Celtics Sunday, the Hawks Monday, and the Raptors Wednesday.
If the Celtics can’t take care of the Wizards and the Knicks, Wojnarowski will be right; the Celtics won’t deserve the 2 seed. But if they do, even if they lose to the Bulls tomorrow–I’d be very surprised if they do, the Celtics are 2-1 against them, KG was out that game, and they had a completely different bench–as long as they beat the Heat on Sunday, they’ll finish with the two seed since the Celtics hold the tie-breaker in head-head matchups.
The Celtics also have an added advantage. Dwyane Wade is suffering from a bad thigh bruise that will likely keep him out tonight. If that injury becomes a bigger problem, the Heat could have trouble down the stretch.
I’m feeling even more confident Wojnarowski will be wrong after watching the Celtics last night.
They were truly firing on all cylinders, shooting 52.6% from the field, 78.9% from the line, holding the 76ers to 39.3% shooting, assisting on 29-44 baskets, winning the rebounding battle, blocking 8 shots, and getting 29 points from the bench.
The most exciting aspect of the game was the combined play of Jermaine O’Neal and Nenad Krstic. This was a breath of fresh air after worrying about the center position for past couple weeks. Jermaine proved what he can provide in the 10-20 mpg the Celtics need from him. He scored 9 points, on 4-6 shooting, grabbed 3 rbs, blocked a shot, and had a +/- of +7 in 13 minutes of action. It seemed like Doc was keeping it conservative, allowing him to work his way back into things, and that he could easily contribute more productive minutes down the road.
Nenad–whose defensive struggles as a starter I catalogued here http://bostonsportsjournal.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/boston-celtics-79-new-jersey-nets-88-this-game-seriously-pissed-me-off/ –showed how ideally suited he is as a backup, providing 15-20 mpg off the bench. He’s not the type of player that needs to start because he can pack so much punch on the offensive end. He can immediately impact the game by scoring in the post, or using his high energy to attack the offensive glass. You can’t ask more from a center off the bench, especially when Davis is the power-forward and prefers not to get within 12 feet of the hoop.
The best part of this is, KG, O’Neal, Krstic and Baby held Brand and Hawes to 18 points and 13 rbs on 8-25 shooting, far better than the 28 pts and 15 rbs on 12-24 they had last game without O’Neal.
The other highlight of the night was Delonte West. He looks comfortable and really ready to contribute some huge, much-needed minutes in the post-season. For the first time in Rondo’s starting career, he has a real backup. That should make everything so much easier for him and the Celtics.
The only area of concern last night was Ray Allen. His recent trend continued, with him playing only a minor role in the offense. In the last seven games he’s registered shot attempt totals of 9, 10, 8, 11, 9, 6, and 7. It’s not like they are resting him either. He played 35 minutes last night.
-I am a huge fan of Evan Turner, so it was great to see him play with so much confidence last night. Tommy said he doesn’t see Turner as a point-guard, like he was in college, and while he might be right, it’s clear that when you get Turner the ball and he can penetrate, good things happen. He scored 21 points on 9-14 shooting with 5 assists. It’ll be exciting watching him develop, particularly next year, when he should take a big leap.
-Another rookie that I wrote about yesterday helped the Celtics in a big way last night. It’s safe to say that if Gordon Hayward regretted leaving Butler yesterday, he doesn’t today. He played 35 minutes against the Lakers last night, scoring 22 points on 9-14 shooting 6 rbs, 5 asts, 2 stls, and a block. He also was the man who got the ball at the end of the game for the Jazz, with the game tied 85-85. He drove past Kobe, was fouled and hit 1-2 from the line to put the Jazz ahead. He then played great defense on Kobe on the other end, and Kobe fumbled the ball to end the game. That puts the Lakers at 55-22 with a tough remaining schedule. They have to play the Warriors tonight, Portland Friday, the Thunder Sunday, the Spurs Tuesday, and the Kings Wednesday. So the Celtics could still have home court to everyone except the Bulls and Spurs before season’s end.
Throughout the course of this game, I asked myself several questions.
The most frequent questions were: are these the two worst teams to play each other for a national championship in recent memory? and is this the worst national championship game ever?
The short answer: no, and no. Which goes directly against the argument I thought I would make.
Butler shot 18.8%. That’s nauseating. But at least the game was close. Watching UNC slaughter Michigan St. in 2009 was a much more boring game.
But if future NBA players are any indication of the quality of the teams, it probably won’t go down as the worst. The 2002 championship game when Maryland beat Indiana was awful. The best NBA players from those teams? Chris Wilcox, Steve Blake, and Jared Jeffries. Now that’s nauseating. I expect Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb and Shelvin Mack to be better pros. But I also could be wrong, so who knows, maybe someday this group will be as undistinguished as the former.
As far as defensive battles go, this game was entertaining enough. It was the classic case of two teams who weren’t good enough to win on talent alone, but–coached by two of the best in the game–were convinced that if they put maximum effort in on the defensive end, they could shut down the other team and minimize the amount of points their decrepit offenses needed to score.
Defensive battle can be fun for diehards, but the national championship is supposed to be the game that even the non-fans want to watch. Non-fans don’t want to watch a defensive showdown. And dedicated fans don’t want to watch a championship featuring two teams that aren’t good enough to score.
Watching last night, it was a simple fact: Butler was not good enough to score on UConn’s great defense, and their path to the championship game shouldn’t have convinced anyone otherwise.
They barely eked by Old Dominion, they beat Pitt because Shelvin Mack was on fire, going 7-12 from 3, and scoring 30 points, they also managed to get 15 pts out of Matt Howard. Against Wisconsin, they met their clone, another team that plays ugly defensive minded basketball. I honestly have no idea how they beat Florida, and then they were fortunate to play VCU in the Final Four, who couldn’t maintain their torrid three-point shooting.
As for UConn, their season can be summed up by two plays. Here: http://www.bigeast.org/BIGEASTTV/OnDemandFREE/TabId/367/VideoId/12782/19-UConn-69–14-Louisville-66-Highlights-Courtesy-ESPN.aspx (Go to the 4:30 mark in the video. It won’t allow me to embed it.)
The video shows Kemba Walker at the end of the Big East championship against Louisville. He splits two defenders, drives, and drops it off to Lamb who lays it in to put UConn ahead by one. Then on Louisville’s inbound pass, Lamb tips it and Napier recovers.
UConn’s season was defined by Walker dominating, and when he wasn’t dominating he at least drew all the attention away from his teammates, and they–usually Lamb–stepped up enough to win games.
Not exactly the recipe for a championship team.
Most other years, UConn would not have won the championship, but they did, and they beat some very good basketball teams along the way, including the team with the best player in the country (Arizona with Derrick Williams).
So the championship is theirs, regardless of how ugly it was.
Other questions that cross my mind:
How much is Gordon Hayward regretting leaving Butler right now?
Hayward undoubtedly left under the assumption that his stock would never be higher. No one thought Butler would ever return to this game. But imagine if Hayward had believed otherwise, and had returned to lead them to a championship? If Hayward were on the court last night he would have been the best player out there, and likely could have been the difference, and he’d be a top-5 pick in a very weak draft, instead of playing for the Utah Jazz. Hayward was likely jacked up to be drafted by a perennial contender like Utah, but the Jazz have collapsed after trading Deron Williams. But then again, Hayward just started his first game and scored 19 points. So life could be worse.
Does the quality of the NCAA tournament predict the quality of the next draft class?
If the 2002 NCAA tournament–the worst in recent memory–and the 2003 and 2007 tournaments–the best in recent memory–, are any indication, then yes.
The 2002 draft class produced Yao Ming, Amar’e Stoudemire, Caron Butler, Carlos Boozer, Tayshaun Prince, and Luis Scola.
The 2003 draft class (not really a fair comparison since this might be the best draft ever) produced LeBron, Carmelo, Bosh, Wade, David West, Boris Diaw, Kendrick Perkins, Josh Howard, Leandro Barbosa, and Mo Williams.
2007 had Durant, Horford, Noah, Conley, Jeff Green, Thaddeus Young, Al Thornton, Rodney Stuckey, Jared Dudley, Wilson Chandler, Aaron Brooks, Aaron Afflalo, Carl Landry, Glen Davis, and Marc Gasol.
Out of these players, in the 2002 draft class, only three players played college basketball. In 2003, six did, but Carmelo and Wade really made that tournament. Wade was hardly known until he took Marquette to the Final Four.
The 2007–probably the best tournament–not surprisingly was loaded with prominent NCAA players, 14 of the 15 players listed were in college basketball that year. Horford, Noah, Conley, Green, and Afflalo played in the Final Four. Afflalo, at UCLA, was accompanied by future NBAer’s Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison, while Jeff Green played with Roy Hibbert at Georgetown.
This article (http://184.108.40.206/vault/article/web/COM1183687/index.htm) suggests scouts ignore the tournament. But maybe they shouldn’t when it’s known to be deep in talent, because success in 2003 and 2007 predicted future success in the pros.
Should Brad Stevens leave Butler?
I wish I could say he should stay, but the fact is, top recruits only play for teams in major conferences. So, if Stevens wants to compete on the national stage every year, he has to go to a team in the Big 10, Big East, Big 12, ACC, PAC 10, or SEC. Butler has done well, getting to the championship game the past two years, but in the three years prior, they went to the sweet 16 once, to the second round once, and got knocked out in the first round once. Maybe Stevens can transform Butler into another Gonzaga, but Gonzaga is still known as a perpetual under-dog, and Stevens can do far better than that.