Friday, June 13, 2008

Breakthrough Thursday

Last night was one of historical significance in the BeachBum household.

No, I’m not referring to the Celtics coming back from 24 down against the Lakers. More on that in a bit.

I’m talking about the two BeachBum boys.

First up is one seven – soon to be eight – year old who has been struggling with his first year in the minors. I may have mentioned that he was very down on himself a few weeks back and was ready to call it a career. ‘I can’t get a hit!’ was his battle cry. I told him at the time to just swing hard at good pitches and don’t swing at bad ones. That was his goal for this season.

He has been doing better lately - getting on base via walks. A lot. Last night was no exception; walking his first two at bats of the night. This is the minors and other young kids are pitching to him. By ‘pitching’ I mean they stand on the mound and throw the ball in the general vicinity of home plate. Usually it’s in the dirt or outside or five feet over the batter’s head. Walks are the norm.

Well, last night we had breakthrough number one. Seven year old was up for his last at bat of the night. Three year old was rolling around on the playground pretending he was a dog or a bug or a dog type bug. Either way I had one eye on him.

Seven year old runs the count to 3-2 and I yell to him ‘anything close you need to swing at’. Throughout the course of this season he has been called out on strikes more times than I can remember. His thinking is the odds of him walking are better than him getting a hit. He’s right, but I want him to HIT! So, I’ve been preaching for months now he needs to be aware of how many strikes are on him. If he has two he needs to swing at anything close.

As the pitcher winds up for the payoff pitch, three year old decides to jump off the bench and flop around in the dirt. As I tell him to get off the filthy ground there is a distinct ‘BING’ of the aluminum bats and I quickly spin around. There is a moment of stunned silence from both teams and the parents of our team.

There – still mid-flight – is the ball my son just crushed. It’s sailing over the second baseman’s head, between the center fielder and the right fielder. It’s still going! It bounces once and clears the cones. Ground rule double. Literally five feet more and it would have been a home run.

I’m so stunned I turn to look at my wife so she can confirm that he really did hit that ball. She’s standing staring at the field wondering the same thing. We make eye contact and I mouth ‘Was that him?’ and she nods with her jaw still around her ankles.

I look over at second base where ‘now All Star in his own mind’ stands and he is calmly and coolly tucking his batting gloves into his back pocket. He sees me, shrugs with a ‘no idea how I just did that’ nonchalance and smiles like he’s just hit the lottery. He got the game ball. Again. First member of the team to get two.

Next up is three year old. He of the never ending potty training. Well, after his older brother got all the attention from the team and his parents, I think some sibling rivalry instinct kicked in. While he was taking a bath I hear ‘Daddy! I’m taking a poop!’

My first thought is ‘FUCK!’ since last time he announced that he was actually shitting in the bathtub. For those without children, trying to fish out poop from a full bathtub is no easy thing. They are elusive little bastards!

I leap up and head into the bathroom only to find him already sitting on the toilet. In my shock I simply stand there. I check the tub. ‘Did you poop in the tub?’ ‘No, I’m going on the toilet’. Sure enough, the first legitimate shit of his young life has taken place.

I should point out that the first hit and the first shit both take place within an hour of each other.

Then….

To top everything off….

I watched the first quarter of the Celtics – Lakers game in shock. This is the team that was up 2-0? They look nothing like the Celtics I’ve watched the past two weeks. Garnett’s body language was atrocious, Pierce was forcing things. Only Ray Allen was on target, but he was only getting looks every fourth or fifth time down the court. Eddie House (who I have been campaigning to get playing time for over a month now) comes in and immediately throws up two bricks. Not just bricks, but the cement and manpower to make a complete wall. If they do a run down of the worst shots in NBA Finals history, those two should be in the top ten.

Still, there was something. They were getting the shots they wanted. It wasn’t like the Lakers were taking the Celtics out of their game with good defense. If this series has shown anything it’s that the Lakers can’t play defense. It’s against everything they believe in.

When Posey came in to replace Perkins (in foul trouble again – more on this in a second) I thought ‘Hmmmm, that’s an interesting move by Doc Rivers’.

(Sidenote here: The above thought is the first time I have ever combined ‘interesting’ and ‘Doc Rivers’ in the same sentence. EVER! Another first!)

Even when Farmer hit that ridiculous floater at the end of the half to put that Celtics down 18 I didn’t think the Celtics were in bad shape. Considering how they played, they should have been down 40. Even the Laker crowd didn’t seem comfortable as they weren’t nearly as rowdy as you would expect from a fair weather crowd. The Lakers just torched a Celtics team for 24 minutes straight and were only up 18 points. And it was only that large because of a prayer three pointer at the buzzer.

Something was amiss!

I’ll admit, during the first part of the third quarter when Kobe started hitting fall aways and the bounces would turn into Gasol dunks I had some doubts. Just didn’t seem like the Celtics night. Then I reminded myself that this is the Lakers. They are psychologically fragile and if you can get a few things going against them, they’ll fold like a house of cards in a hurricane. Besides, for the first time since game 1, Garnett had that murderous look in his eye. When he sat in the first quarter because of foul trouble, he looked like someone suffering from a migraine. He sat motionless, with his fingers pressed to his forehead, ignoring Sam Cassell who doesn’t look like he ever shuts the fuck up!

I was worried, then. Not in the third quarter, though. Even though they were still missing shots, they had notched up all the other things that make them so good. They were rebounding, the defense was cranked up a notch, they were getting their hands on passes, harassing the Laker guards and getting into the heads of Gasol and Odom.

Which brings me back to Perkins for a minute. I’ve noticed that he has been getting called for what I thought were unnecessary and stupid fouls. He would push someone into the first row on a foul shot or throw an elbow into the word Lakers on someone’s chest. But, the more I’ve been watching this Lakers team, the less I think these fouls were stupid. In fact, Perkins sole responsibility in this series seems to be to get into the fragile minds of this front line. Abuse them a bit. Get hard fouls on them and see how they react. Shove them when they are off their feet or elbow them in the head and let’s see what happens.

What happens is they back down.

In many ways last night’s game was a microcosm for both teams.

- The Celtics are tougher both mentally and physically then the Lakers and can weather stretches like the first half.

- The Lakers are fantastic front runners. They are cocky and in your face when things are going well, but withdraw into themselves and bitch at their teammates and refs the minute things start going badly. In the first half Odom was wagging his tongue and screaming at the Celtics, Kobe was smiling and jawing, the Laker bench was dancing and strutting on the sidelines. When things started caving in the third quarter, they were arguing with each other and giving the refs dirty looks and looking like someone close to them had just died. There is an alarming lack of personal accountability on this Lakers team and I’m betting it stems from their biggest star.

When interviewed after the game about his defense on Ray Allen's clinching layup, Sasha Vujacic said something along the lines of ‘well, everything I did was a foul so what was I going to do?’. Right, so just let him go by you while you stand still. Like Kobe, nobody is ever at fault on this team.

- The Lakers can’t get a stop on defense if their lives depended on it. When you watch the highlights of last night’s game, pay particular attention to Ray Allen’s layup I mention above. It was disgustingly easy and no help came from either side when Allen got past his man. If I didn't know any better (and I don't) it sure looked like the entire Lakers team quit.

A few other notes about last night’s game.

- This referee controversy could not have come at a better time for the Celtics. Last night’s game was the best officiated game of the series. It was fair, balanced and consistent. Fouls were called when it was needed, but it didn’t interrupt the flow of the game. With the increased scrutiny coming from Donaghy’s allegations, do you think the refs were more concerned about fairness than extending the series? I can’t imagine the Celtics winning last night’s game if the refs felt like they could call things for the Lakers and get away with it.

- The focus on game 6 of those 2002 Western Conference Finals makes Phil Jackson’s comments after game 2 of this series even more insulting. He said he had never ‘in all my years of coaching’ seen such free throw discrepancy. Well, he has, only in 2002 his team benefited from it. I guess it’s ok when it helps your team.

- Please, can we now cease and desist with the Kobe – Jordan comparisons. Have we all seen enough, yet?

- The Celtics – even if they somehow lose the series – have proven they have what it takes to be a champion. They took the best the Lakers had to offer, stayed close and slowly chipped away at the lead. The difference in mental makeup between these two teams was never more evident. The Celtics have the mental makeup of poor, inner city kids who had to fight for food while the Lakers have the mental tenacity of trust fund kids who’s biggest rejection was not getting into the best country club in town.

- Nothing was more satisfying than watching Pierce clamp down on Kobe in the fourth quarter. The exclamation point coming when he blocked Kobe’s ‘pretend to drive only to pull up for a 20 footer’. Eat that Kobe!

- Despite Phil Jackson’s claims to the contrary, this series is over. The Lakers looked like a defeated team after the game. They played one of the best twenty four minutes of their playoffs and still lost the game.

That, my friends, does not happen to an NBA champion. An NBA champion can clamp down defensively when they need to. They pull each other up when they’re down. They trust in their teammates even when they aren’t playing well. They find ways to win when they don’t play at their best.

An NBA champion looks an awful lot like the Celtics did last night.

Today's distraction: As a tribute to the differences between the Celtics and Lakers, play '6 Differences'. One of those fun, spot the differences between two pictures games. Loved those as a kid!

4 comments:

son pere said...

French and I went out to dinner last evening, and on the way, he asked what I thought the Celtics chances were for game #4. I simply stated "the C's will win game 4." I felt that they had kept it close on Tuesday night, when the "big 3" had an off night, sooooo..... Then I watched the Lakers dominate the first half and I was bumming. I went to bed believing that the C's were going down in defeat HARD in Game 4.

Boy, was I surprised to hear the news this morning!! Good News!

Hammen said...

I couldn't imagine going to sleep without knowing how my team did in the NBA finals. Even if I lived on the East Coast and I was old, hahaha.

Just playin, fellas.

BeachBum said...

Talk to us when you're over 40 and have kids, Hammen. Then you'll know. Oh will you know!

son pere said...

Well said, BB, well said!

By the way, French was nowhere to be seen that night, so I don't even know if he caught the whole game. All I know is that he was in his bed on Friday morning.