Thursday, February 17, 2011

Garden Party

I’m a huge basketball fan.

Oh, you already knew that.  Well, in case you didn’t then let me briefly explain.  I’ve had a love affair with the NBA and the game of basketball since I was about seven years old.  I’ve followed NCAA basketball and NBA basketball each year since 1993.  I have memorized players’ names, their stats and most importantly their stories—what colleges they went to, who coached them, how they developed their style and game, how they were known in the locker room among their teammates.  Basketball is a more dynamic sport than baseball and doesn’t rely completely on statistics to tell a story or to keep interest.  It is not as in-your-face masculine as football, but still retains an element of swagger and testosterone style.  Basketball players are put right in front of you on a stage, on the basketball court.  There are no helmets; there is no large outfield. Basketball is ten players, ten abnormally tall and strong players, on a shiny wooden court beneath spotlights.  There is a drama and an excellence to it that strike me as being very important at all times and it is perhaps the best sport to watch live. 

My love affair is particularly strong with the NBA.  I know the histories of all the teams so well that I have grown to love each franchise in its own way.  When you add the fact that this year has been the best basketball season since perhaps 1986-1987 season or the 1991-1992 season, you have to appreciate the fact that I could watch any team, any game on any particular night and be entertained by a game of professional basketball.

So, when the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat played in Boston this past Sunday in their third matchup of the season, my friend Jeff (an equal appreciator of basketball) and I had to go to the game.  The fact that the game was for first-place in the Eastern Conference standings made it even better. As did the fact that the Heat had already lost two games to the Celtics earlier in the season. The fact that the Heat had lost those two contests when they hadn’t yet attained the chemistry they had since gained made it all the more fascinating.

I’m going to save some more of the meaningful stuff regarding friends and sports contests and time for another post. Instead, here I will post some of my observations from a Sunday at the New Boston Garden.

- The New Garden is a classic bit of Boston architecture.  It sort of just blends in with the rest of the buildings around it.  That is to say, it looks weird, but still seems to mesh with that insanely dated architecture and those spiraling staircases of the Lindemann Mental Health Center. That being said, its in a pretty convenient and awesome location right on the water. Its not in the heart of the city like Madison Square Garden, but still pretty good.

- Inside, the arena is so intimate.  When the crowd stands at the beginning of the game it seems like people will spill out onto the court. It really adds a great look to the game environment.  Definitely two thumbs up.

- The most frequently worn jersey at the game wasn’t a Garnett jersey, a Pierce jersey, an Allen jersey or even a vintage Bird jersey (though I did see someone rocking a Bird, Indiana State Sycamores jersey), it was shockingly enough a Rondo jersey.  Now, I love Rondo and I knew that the Boston fans appreciated him, but I didn’t realize how popular he actually was. He deserves it of course, but it was just surprising.

- On the subject of Rondo, he is a freak of nature.  His hustle is insane when going after loose balls.  Jeff and I had seats along the baseline and we got to watch up close when Rondo guarded LeBron in the fourth quarter. Although Rondo is undersized, it was amazing to see his weird sinewy strength and his length give LeBron some problems.  Also, when he flicks a layup with those huge hands, it’s really just something special.

- The Celtics pass really well. It’s fantastic to watch in person.

- You know when you watch a Celtics game on TV and Ray Allen hits a huge three pointer and the crowd just explodes? Yeah, when that happens in person it is very, very loud. The crowd literally roars.  Plus, there is nothing like seeing a smooth Ray Allen three pointer in person. The crowd gets about this loud:

- LeBron in person is a spectacle. He is so large and when he muscles his way through the lane to the basket, you sort of have to take pity on whomever he’s hitting into.  I’ve never really seen anything like it.  I mean we all know that LeBron is an alien and freakishly talented, but to see him in action is something completely different.

- Bosh has a very smooth shot. I don’t know who’s shot is smoother, his or Garnett’s.

- Wade is so sneaky getting to the basket.  He had an off game because he missed a few tip-ins and layups, but the way he figures out how to dart through the lane and along the baseline and get close to the basket is pretty much unparalleled in the game today.  It’s a sort of rare talent that I haven’t been able to place the origins of. Its sort of Barkleyesque in its sneakiness, but Wade obviously lacks the force and the atypical body type that Barkley had.  I’ll think about it some more.

- Watching Wade, Bosh and LeBron communicate with each other after a timeout is so fascinating.  You know that their basketball IQ is so high and that they are speaking at a level above so many of the players on the court that you are just drawn in whenever they are close to each other.  You want to know what exactly they are figuring out as they make hand motions and point to certain spots on the floor.  Probably one of my favorite parts of watching this game and being so close.

- As J.A. Adande pointed out on his Twitter feed, the Heat definitely had an element of cool during the game and it cost them.  They could have taken that game and made a definite statement, but it seemed like they had the approach of, “We’re better now than we were in November. We know we’re better. We don’t have to try too hard to win this game. We’re going to win it because we’re better than we were.” But, they didn’t fight for everything and they lost a game that was very winnable. I’m hoping that was just a “regular season game right before All-Star break” syndrome, but that was a big game and they should have felt the urgency and playoff intensity that was needed. I know the Boston crowd felt it.

- Once again, the Boston crowd is great and the environment is definitely special. I’m glad the Celtics are good and relevant. I will miss this current team when the window closes and I’m very happy that I have now seen them.

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