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DETAILS MATTER

By Danny Kanamori


Should the Boston Celtics be worried? The obvious answer is yes. But let's start with why they should not be worried.

They will make the playoffs. If they are not the first seed, they will most likely be the second seed. While style points matter to people like me so that I have something to write about, they don't matter in the long run. If the Boston Celtics repeat as NBA champions, nobody will remember or care about their regular season losses.


Like all sports, basketball is a game of streaks. It is not a coincidence that they won nineteen in a row and then lost seven of their next nine. This is especially conspicuous in the game of basketball. Let's say most games are decided by ten points or less. That's five possessions. If you consider the average game has 200 possessions (100 per team), that means that 2.5% of the possessions decide the outcome of a ten-point game. What does this mean? Details matter. And when one or two of them go the other way, a winner quickly becomes a loser. During the 19-game winning streak, the Celtics were winning that 2.5%. During the last ten, the details have been going the other way.


Here's why the Celtics should be worried. Last year, they were beating teams by such a large margin that their margin of error was far greater than 2.5%. This year, they were so good initially not because they were blowing teams out but because they were winning the close games. They were 8-0 in games decided by 8 points or less. They were winning 2.5%.


But now they have lost seven of nine, and three of those were by 6 points or less. The ability to win those close games really comes from consistency of closing games. In all of their losses, they put themselves in a position to win the fourth quarter, but they have not been able to respond.


Does this mean they are not as good as we thought they were? Maybe. More than anything else, it means the NBA is way too talented not to adapt. This isn't college basketball. Just look at the gambling lines. More than half the games Duke has played, they have been at least 15-point favorite. The Celtics have not been a 15-point favorite even once this year. Vegas isn't stupid. In the NBA, anybody can beat anybody. There are simply too many stars.


Bottom line - the Celtics are a different team this year. They are the hunted and perhaps less talented without the likes of James Posey, P.J. Brown and (a year younger) Sam Cassell. They have to close games. They have to hit big shots. They have to hit free throws. They can't get in foul trouble early. And they have to realize that, like Doc River's says, they are playing "82 game 7's." So let's stop worrying about the Celtics being better than last year and let them worry about winning that 2.5%.

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