Countdown: Playoff regrets could come back to haunt contenders
"It's huge," coach
In short, if the Celtics give Orlando hope of winning Game 3 in Boston on Saturday, if they enable the Magic to enter Game 4 with hope of evening the series, then the success of the opening two games has been turned upside down. Then the Magic are rolling back for a two-of-three mini-series with two of those games in Orlando.
The perversity of the playoffs is that success begets pressure. The better you do, the more you need to keep doing it. If you relax, you lose.
"The playoffs are really single-possession games for 48 minutes," Rivers said. "We talk about it all regular season in practice. Every time a guy makes a mistake, we try to point that out -- that [could be] one mistake in the playoffs that lost us the game. Because that's what the playoffs are. If you can get your team to be a single-possession [team on] offense-defense for 48 minutes, then you have a chance to be pretty good in the playoffs."
As thoroughly as the Celtics have controlled the play, they've led by a point or two in the final minutes of each game. The margin couldn't be narrower. That's why it's so important to have experience in the playoffs -- not only because older players should know what they're doing under pressure, but also because they can't afford to wait for a better opportunity later.
"The big thing is the urgency on every play, the value of the basketball on every single possession," Rivers said. "Young guys are so careless offensively. They wander, they don't get the playoffs. Right when it gets hard, right when they get down, that's when they start thinking, 'Man, this is a tough one this year, we can get it next year.' The older players know there are no guarantees ever to next year."
Ever since Rivers began coaching the trio of
So Rivers is now presenting Game 3 as an ultimate test of his players' resolve. "We haven't achieved what we want -- all we've done is win two games in the Eastern finals," he said. "If that takes our eye off the prize, then honestly we aren't good enough. ... I told them if they can't handle it, then we're just not mentally tough enough. And at the end of the day, that's the only way you're going to be able to win."
"The way I played, I knew it wasn't going to last long," Bird said last November. "I had a lot of people tell me -- and a lot of doctors tell me -- if you continue to play the way you play and rack up the minutes, your body can't take it. And I knew that. I knew it was going to come to an end. I just thought it was going to [end] a lot sooner than what it did."
Bird's perspective should be taken seriously by any modern star in the playoffs.
"When we won it in '81, we were young," he said of his first of three NBA titles with the Celtics. "We had a good team but we were really young with
"I think about if we'd stayed healthy. Our downfall started in '87-88. But if we'd had Walton back to give us a half a season, I thought we could have done it. The Lakers said it was their best team, but I thought we were pretty good."
How many players are so focused on winning each and every year regardless of circumstances and excuses?
"I don't know," said
Twenty-two years later and Dumars -- one of the most successful players and executives of his era -- cannot get over it. But Dumars believes that loss helped him and the Pistons win championships the next two years.
"You talk about motivation for the next year, incredible motivation," he said. "Everybody had their own reasons for motivation. Isiah because of the ankle injury. Also, they called a foul on [
I asked whether he finds himself obsessing on the four championships his teams have won or those they've failed to win. "You're a bad, bad person," he scolded for asking. "When the thoughts go through your head, when you're laying in bed at night or you're on an airplane, the things that drift in there more than the wins are the ones you think you gave away."
It says something about your focus, I told him.
"It says you're sick," Popovich said, smiling. "It says you're an immature child and you can't appreciate what you should appreciate in life. It says you should mature a little bit more. And you can write that."
But when you're retired and no longer trying to win every year, I said, then you'll appreciate the good work for what it was.
"Yeah, that's true," he said. "You know what I'm looking forward to? When I do walk away, for the first time I'm going to watch the tapes of those Finals games. I'm going to read some of the articles about the players and the team and all that, because I haven't read a one or watched the films -- unless I'm sitting there and they put on ESPN Classic or whatever it's called, so if something might come on, I'll watch it for five minutes. But I'm saving it as a gift for later, to watch those games and read those articles.
"So for now I don't even think about it. I don't care about them, they don't mean anything. We've got other work to do."
"The one thing that didn't resonate with us at the time was creating something special that's going to last for a couple of years," he said. "We thought we had to get better, and to some extent there's some truth to that because the league gets better. But we had a pretty good squad."
Yet Allen and his team focused on what so many experts and rivals said they needed -- a power forward to provide low-post scoring. After losing Game 7 at Philadelphia to send
"We would practice [in the summer] and Anthony Mason was coming up to Milwaukee every day and trying to convince us that we needed him on our team," Allen said. "I was talking to him every day, and he was like, 'I can really help you guys, you guys need to talk to
Allen persisted even though an older teammate warned him of the potential consequences. "On the way home from practice
Of course, Johnson turned out to be right. "He started all year, and when he didn't touch it he was looking at us, and he didn't like the plays
The same debate has defined the Lakers' decision to replace
"You can't just assume it's going to be gravy or everything's going to work," Rivers said. "You need to reach out to people you know and say, 'What is this guy's reputation?' Because when you get a player that is not a good teammate, or a coach that can be a jerk, 82 games is a long time. It can be miserable if you don't like them."
If Pierce opts out AND the Celtics renounce his Bird rights AND they dump their first-round pick, then Boston will be $14 million under the cap with five players under contract for next season. Which means James would have to agree to take less than the max, and Pierce and Allen would face coming back to Boston for the veteran's minimum of $1.1 million. That's a tough sell, Michael.
Something tells me I'll be getting a lot of mail like this over the next month.
A league insider mentioned the possibility of James' moving to Portland because owner
There are all kinds of reasons for him to sign or not sign with any team. Chicago is a promising destination given its base of talent and the size of its market -- and we don't yet know the identity of its coach, which could make a huge difference in James' ultimate decision.
Sam, when you are seeded No. 4 and you beat the No. 1 team, that is an upset. When you go 27-27 over the last four months of the regular season and then open with two wins on the home floor of a No. 2 team that had gone 28-3 heading into the conference finals, that is an upset.
If the Celtics go all the way, they'll become the lowest-seeded champion in 15 years. That is an upset.
Would the Heat do a straight-up trade of Wade for James? I'm sure they would. Would the Cavaliers make the same trade? I'm sure they wouldn't.
James is the bigger player. His size enables him to create more problems and makes him harder to guard and box out, and he's the more versatile defender. I think he's also a better passer than Wade -- and none of this is meant as any criticism of Wade, as there is nothing wrong with being ranked behind James.
This idea that James quit on his team is getting out of hand. He played a bad second half in Game 5 against Boston, for which I criticized him. But I don't see him regressing as a player or leader. His team in Cleveland has been under constant construction in recent years and James has been the one to quickly incorporate
The reason Cleveland has to be nervous is because James is now going to question whether he lost because the Cavs supplied him with the wrong coach and teammates. You can argue that the responsibility for this unhappy ending is on LeBron himself, you can say he has regressed, but the fact is that he gets to make this decision in July. If he decides he has a better chance to win in Miami or Chicago or Dallas, then he's going to leave.
"So on actual drives or attacking the rim with everybody except Dwight [and Barnes], we were 3-for-15 on layups. Why do you shoot 20 percent on layups? Clearly, it's because their size is coming to block and making the shots very difficult. But if people are coming to block, there's obviously other people open.
"Now, it's obviously a lot easier for me because I can stop the film and say he's open. It's a little harder on the floor. But we have to be able to make some of those plays. We can't continue to double-pump and throw up really difficult shots against them. I mean, we simply can't shoot 3 for 15 on layups and be successful."