Friends are Disappointing

Read Shoals' post below.

His ultimately nihilistic characterization of Cavs/Celtics almost precludes me from writing anything on the matter. This is in addition to the fact that I realize I am taking the Celtics extremely personally this year, for reasons I'm not sure are really that interesting. I mean, one obvious issue is the inner turmoil that any Minnesota sports fan feels over watching Garnett climb the mountain. There's plenty of time to discuss this lingering concern, but let me speak to the broader, non-Minnesotan viewing public for a second: Did the Celtics make formerly likeable players permissible to hate on?

Rondo and Perkins went from Destiny's children to looking like spoiled braggarts.

P.J. Brown, STILL my favorite player and probably the most stand-up guy in the league, looks like half a ring-chaser. He could have signed with the Hornets and brought the circle of life to New Orleans.

Sam Cassell has gone from the guy who gave up millions dollars left on his contract with the Clips to get one more ring, to playoff ballhog.

Ray Allen and his Mesozoic period ankles are struggling. He scored four points yesterday and can't guard anybody. Simmons and other Boston diehards have essentially bailed on him. Whereas on the Sonics or Bucks, he was Obama with a jumpshot, on Boston he has become the object of scorn and would have taken a heaping unend of blame had the Celtics lost this series. The guy who will hit any free throw you need at any time, the guy who had more impact than Paul Pierce, Doc Rivers, Kevin McHale, or phony executive of the year Danny Ainge, in getting KG to Boston, is now a scapegoat. Can you imagine the wheelbarrows of manure dumped on Ray-Ray had the Celtics not won last night?

And of course, there's also KG. On the Timberwolves, he was a beating heart who bled tears. Just as often called out for being the Anti-Clutch as he was pitied for his playoff failures, because of how much he loves to win, and Kevin McHale, and lack of a supporting cast, lack of a good coach, Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell, the Joe Smith deal, and on and on and on. In New England, there is nowhere to hide from the Eastern Sports Programming Network, the tradition-rich dynasty that follows the Celtics like a ghost, and the maj0r-market-ness of Boston as a sports town, and that anti-clutch stuff is getting bigger pub than anything before. All of KG's old faults (shies away from contact, not enough free throws, fades at the end of games, takes too many jumpers, passes too much, too wound up under pressure) are coming to light, and in the worst way.

But let's take one more second to figure out what "clutch" even means.

I wish someone would define the goddamn term before tossing it around in a frivolous manner similar to "THE DOMINIQUE-BIRD GAME" (wait, is Joe Johnson Dominique, or is it LeBron, or is it Josh Childress?) and "THE BIG THREE" and god save us if it's Boston/Lakers in the finals (BASKETBALL IS NOT THE 1980s). As far as "definitively clutch," the players that come to mind are Robert Horry, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Reggie Miller. Players on the cusp are: Kobe Bryant, Sam Cassell, and Chauncey Billups. Bibby would have made the top-of-the-dome list if not for this year. But after that, the term "clutch" gets tossed around extremely carelessly, with players then being forced into the ridiculousness redefining their legacy from game-to-game (see, LeBron in game 1 vs. game 7).

Remember what happened before Derek Fisher hit his famous 0.4 second shot?

Look, I think that the shot by Duncan is probably one of the top 5 plays I've seen in my lifetime, with Fisher as number 1. Now if Fisher MISSES his shot, Duncan probably becomes known as the most clutch player of all time (especially when adding to his resume his game 1 performance against Phoenix this year). But this is despite the fact that Duncan HAS shown some post-season wobbliness in recent postseasons (Game 7 vs. the Pistons in the 06 finals, when he shot a terrible percentage and everyone gave him credit even though Manu and TP won the whole damn series for them), not to mention the fact his clunkers in the early games vs. the Hornets this series. Tonight is going to define nothing for Duncan in reality, yet whatever his performance is will--at least for the next two weeks--significantly impact his legacy.

Ok, so this has been one long ramble, when I've meant to talk about KG. Garnett hits two late short jumpers, but also clanks two potential game-CLINCHERS and PJ Brown eternally saves Garnett's entire career yesterday. Is KG un-clutch? Is he clutch because of what he did vs. the Kings in 2004. The answer is neither, and I'm sick of having to listen to proclamations about legacy, when history has not yet fully had its say.

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At 5/19/2008 1:24 PM, Blogger Darryl said...

"Clutch" seems almost definitionally ahistorical. Because it relies on the ability to produce "in the moment," it needs us to ignore all the moments that brought us to that one in the first place. Then once the narrative is created, it takes on the character of conventional wisdom.

Then again, I haven't been watching basketball too long. I watch politics. And the Clintons are clutch.

At 5/19/2008 2:53 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

Good stuff all-around, and I've really enjoyed this recent resurgence of Dr. LIC posts.

I know this site loathes stat-head types, but I do think 82 games has done a good job of defining "the goddamn term" with their "clutch" and "super-clutch" stats. And while one season's worth of stats based on the last 2 minutes of regulation or OT in a game within 3 points is probably too small a sample size, it has managed to distinguish the same players my eyes tell me are the most clutch: Bron, Kobe, Ginobili and (contrary to that erroneous "soft" label) Dirk.

And sure, KG still has time to re-write history. For instance, DLIC's boy Sean Elliot was a career playoff choker until he hit one shot against the Blazers, got a bad kidney and retired -- now he's forever "clutch." But, we do have 13 seasons worth of evidence to go on. Frankly, I was shocked he even took 4 shots in the 4th yesterday. Even still, he certainly never looked like he wanted to take over for even a second, and, as Shoals noted, this is the reason why KG's maintained all-along that this is Pierce's team.

As far as Duncan, there's no question that he's struggled at times in the playoffs over his career (this series included, but in Game 7 against the Pistons, though, he did manage 25 and 11 against the formidable Wallace Boys). In the SA paper today, Buck Harvey made the similar point that Duncan has struggled at times in the playoffs in ways you wouldn't expect. Unlike a Jordan who could rely on tremendous athleticism to overcome hurdles, Duncan has always needed time to experience things first and learn from them -- to figure out where double teams are coming from, where the holes in the D are, etc. This may be why he never had much success in the single elimination NCAA's or Olympics. But over the course of 7 games, there's no one I'd rather have on my side.

At 5/19/2008 4:09 PM, Blogger GHOSTS said...

"Did the Celtics make formerly likeable players permissible to hate on?"

can you expand on this? do you, admitted bias aside, agree? for example, the assertion that rondo and perkins look like "spoiled braggarts".

what statement(s) have rondo or perkins made that have initiated this change from likable to hated?

i would guess its not a single or even a composite of statements, is it as simple as the national distaste for all things boston sports? or is this a more specific transformative power that the celtic's posess?

At 5/19/2008 5:10 PM, Blogger Andres said...

this post is perfect. the celtics have made all their players permissible to hate on. it's this notion that this is a team of "winners" or "champions," this sense that they are entitled to something because of their regular season. it's bullcrap. see dallas, 06. also, as pointed out elsewhere, not a single guy on this team has won anything of note. and rondo sux. he's derek fisher at best.

At 5/19/2008 5:37 PM, Blogger DJ Slick Watts said...


This seems a lot like the questions about clutch hitting in baseball, where the answer is usually, give a player enough ABs and he will, over time, perform as well as he always does.

Because LeBron, Kobe, Manu, and Dirk? The third is something of an exception, but the fact is those aren't just the players my lying eyes tell me are "clutch." Those are the players my lying eyes tell me are "good," for all 48 minutes.

At 5/19/2008 5:39 PM, Blogger Joey said...

Kobe is the greatest last-second-shot taker ever. To me, that makes the Kob-Ra Commander the most clutch......... yes, ever.

At 5/19/2008 5:42 PM, Blogger Chad said...

I was a big fan of Ray Ray and Garnett before the trades that brought them to Boston went down. Hell, I was fan at the beginning of the season, but after a few games, it was obvious that things with those two (and Pierce) had changed. They went from the perception of being hungry to win, to being old, jaded vets. They're whiney, boisterous, angry and jaded. I loathe them now, and am rooting for them to be eliminated, now by the Pistons.

At 5/19/2008 8:39 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...


I had thought about the clutch hitting fallacy in baseball, and perhaps that is true in basketball as well, but I cannot think of a reason why the ability to maintain composure under pressure wouldn't be an asset in basketball just like leaping ability, length, footwork, etc.

The act of hitting is so straightforward compared to the almost limitless variety of things that a basketball player could do with the ball in the final minute. I'm undoubtedly selling hitting short here (I haven't stood in a batters box in like 16 years), but I can't think of that many things a hitter has to focus on. He tries to out-think the pitcher to guess what's coming, and depending on the pitch he has to make the split second decision on whether to pull it or go opposite field, but beyond that isn't it mostly just the purest kind of reaction?

In contrast, a basketball player has to read the D and then can pass, shoot, dribble, drive, fake, try to draw contact, kickout, etc, and with each decision comes subsequent options. Given this, it seems more likely to me that an ability to maintain composure and think clearly in these situations would be an asset in basketball.

Desire is also a factor. A batter doesn't get to choose whether he's in the box for a key at bat, but a basketball player can easily choose to not shoot (I'm picturing KG catching the ball inside the FT line yesterday only to turn around and quickly hand it to Rondo).

And I agree that Manu is the name that jumps out among that list, and that alone gives me cause to believe that 82games is onto something with the stat. He has been phenomenal in pressure situations throughout his career (and this year in particular). It's worth noting that Ben Gordon is 6th on that list, and Gordon is not someone who you typically think of as being "good" for 48 minutes.

Clearly there is a certain skill-set common among all of these guys. They can all create their own shot and they are all excellent free throw shooters (Lebron is not an exceptional free throw shooter, but he's solid and he's also capable of getting layups when the game is on the line). And....I'd go on, but GAME 7 IS STARTING AND I CAN'T KEEP MY COMPOSURE.

At 5/19/2008 9:25 PM, Blogger Nick said...

seems to me the key difference is that in baseball you can't choose to come to the plate down 2 in the 9th with 2 on....in basketball you can choose, to a certain extent at least, to take the late shot. I'd love to see an individual stat called, let's see, how about "shame": % of a player's total shots taken in the last 4 close minutes of close games. "dude has no shame!" we could say admiringly about somebody whose percentage was unusually high.....

At 5/19/2008 10:47 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

I am sorry, but Chris Faul disgusts me. I am trying to not be a bitter Deron homer here but I fail to see how petulance, jumping into contact and flopping make an all-time great.

wv: tnvthmwv
harder to clean up than my 20-month-old daughter's blocks.

At 5/19/2008 11:01 PM, Blogger rebar said...

the sound of a spurs win is the sound of my heart breaking, at least until kobe stops them.

At 5/19/2008 11:10 PM, Blogger The Other Van Gundy said...


At 5/19/2008 11:28 PM, Blogger Mel Terrapin said...

Terrible couple days.

That Zizmor shit is a real mindfuck.

At 5/19/2008 11:30 PM, Blogger T. said...

One thing - if its Spurs/Pistons, can we at least put an end to the stupid "David Stern fixes the playoffs" meme?

At 5/19/2008 11:39 PM, Blogger Brian Burke said...

Unless Joey Crawford calls every Spurs playoff game from here on out, I think David Stern stands innocent.

At 5/19/2008 11:48 PM, Blogger Sean C. said...

It pains me to root for the Lakers, but I'd much rather see them in the Finals than those whiney, dirty bastard Spurs. If I have to witness yet another Spurs-Pistons Final, I may give up on the NBA forever.

Honestly, this decade has sucked in terms of having a likable champion. The '01 76ers, '02Kings, '04 T-Wolves, '05-'07 Suns, and '06 Mavs all came up short, and thusly we've had to live with the half-assed Lakers dynasty, the annoying Spurs dynasty, the faceless '04 Pistons, and the unlikable '06 Heat.

At least there's hope for a Celtics-Lakers matchup. The Lakers are an exciting team to watch, and even though the Celtics aren't very FD, at least they play with a little fucking vigor, which can't be said for the Pistons or Spurs.

At 5/19/2008 11:58 PM, Blogger DJ Slick Watts said...


The thing about composure, skill under pressure, wanting/being used to the ball is the same in basketball as baseball, thought: you don't get to the NBA without those things. Until they got to this level, just about every NBA player has been the best on his team and has taken the last shot. Like in baseball, there is certainly a particular skill set that lends itself to clutch performance, but the intangibles the stat implies still run contrary to what I think 82games is about. For all their crunch-time baggage, who would you run out to the 4 spot for your last possession, Robert Horry or Kevin Garnett? Knamean?

See, for instance, Jannero Fucking Pargo, who passed maybe twice in the 4th quarter. He's not even a starter, but as far as he's concerned he should be trying to play like Chris Paul in Game 7.

Fucking Spurs.

At 5/20/2008 3:34 AM, Blogger Mercurialblonde said...

The dream is over.

At 5/20/2008 9:38 AM, Blogger Ken said...

There is no such thing as clutch. PERIOD.

There are small sample size variances that can elevate players who otherwise would never have the chance to be perceived as "clutch." But where superstars are concerned they will shoot in the "clutch" pretty much exactly what they'd shoot in the non-clutch.

If Kobe shoots somewhere between 40 and 50% for his career and in playoff game last second shot chances goes 5 for 10. No one will remember those 5 misses. They'll remember the makes because they "felt" bigger.

You want LeBron, Kobe, Manu, Dirk, et all taking your final shot cause they're good. Not cause they're clutch.

The Steve Kerr's and John Paxon's of the world aren't seen as "clutch" per se, they're just good shooters. Maybe I just opened up a racial element to the clutch argument, but there you go.

At 5/20/2008 11:08 AM, Blogger Brickowski said...

Yeah, Slick, I had considered that, but just because all the players came up taking last shots doesn't mean that some of them aren't better at it than others. I mean, Shaq and Kobe both had to shoot FTs all their lives, but one is obviously much better at it than others. I still can't see why "poise" can't be a skill like any other.

At 5/20/2008 8:07 PM, Blogger andy said...

Bibby was only good in the Lakers v Kings series where the Kings were one shot away from a championship (they would have beat the Nets). Every year after that, Bibby sucked it up in the playoffs.

What about the hall of fame of chokers? And I don't mean the Latrell Sprewell variety.


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