This season has brought us a definitive fourth class of prevaricators. To liars, d*mn liars, and statisticians, we can now add anyone who thinks he has a handle on this year's Celtics. Inconsistency has been their only constant--and that includes every aspect of the Green. Individually the health and performance of the players have varied wildly from month to month, week to week, day to day, game to game, and even quarter to quarter. Similarly spotty has been the play and production of almost any group one might define--starters, second unit, deep bench, older vets, youngsters, role players, front court, back court, swing men, bigs, points, shooters, slashers, All-Stars, scrubs, and in between. As a whole they have beaten, and been beaten by, the best and the worst, the young and the old, the East and the West, and turned in wildly different results against the same team whether the games are separated by days or months. If you think you have this team figured out, I've got some seafront property I'd like to sell you . . . as soon as the tide goes out.
There have been some interesting discussions surrounding Doc’s comments about bandwagon fans. The truth is that it would be almost impossible to have swings in fan support or belief with more amplitude than the ebb and flow of the performance of this year's Celtics. Perhaps the question should be--How could the fan’s belief system not mirror the up and down nature of their team? As most of us fans demonstrate the mental instability natural for an emotionally-attached appendage to a franchise yo-yo, the stress has degraded our psyche (or would that be psychi) until our pets hide, our wives and girlfriends tread on eggshells, and the TV has become accustomed to high-decibel verbal abuse.
But enough of us, today's topic is the many and deleterious effects of such uncertainty on our beloved team. These same fluctuations that drive fan(atics) to distraction, also cast an insidious malevolent spell across all levels of the functioning of the team. On an individual level one of the keys to effective play is to understand what you can and can not do. Playing within your limits presupposes that you know what those limits are and that you can perform all the aspects that are "within." Anyone that has had a leg injury knows how difficult it is to shoot a jump shot as you recover and don't know how much lift and stability the leg will give you from shot to shot. Many of us are old enough to have encountered the corner, which when rounded, finds that the body summoned responds with a resounding "Not tonight, dear." Much of basketball, especially shooting, is mental and when your dependable's become questionable's there is no comfort zone--rather than in a groove you find yourself in the cage equivalent of moguls. Think of how many lay-ins by Pierce and Garnett (or Tony or Sheed for that matter) have been snubbed by the front rim. When your lift fails to fully materialize (whether from injury or just the decline of age), you are left a bit short--on the jump, on the shot, on the rebound, on the block, on the steal, on the finish. If basketball is a game of confidence, what must be said of the state of a player who is wildly inconsistent? At some point it becomes a chicken-and-egg thing devolving into a downward spiral.
This loss-of-competence/confidence ripple of micro to macro for individual players finds a questionable jump leading to a questionable shot leading to hesitant and ineffective play. A similar effect results in the reduced functionality of any on-court five as their interaction suffers from individual failures just as a motor is robbed of power with misfiring cylinders. Actually it is much worse as the doubt that creeps in (some would say this is just good reality testing) creates uncertainty--whether your teammate will be in time on the defensive rotation, will catch up with your pass thrown to lead, will hit the open shot that should be a slight improvement over your mildly contested opportunity, or that they will be able to get back in time to seal the other lane on the break. Just as trust allows the whole to exceed the sum of the parts, doubt ensures that the whole falls short of that sum.
The same might be said for the combined effort of the first and second units. If you have doubts about your counterpart maintaining their end of the responsibilities, there is additional pressure on you to over-perform to compensate for their possible failures. And the ripple of inconsistency and doubt goes on and on until it brings down the whole house of cards--which remained standing only because each part was used in a way to draw from its strengths and minimize its weaknesses. Success breeds success, fear fosters fear, and the Celtics have run out of time to build the momentum that comes from playing well which leads to winning and trusting and believing, which leads to playing even better and winning even more. In this light Doc's grousing about the lack of faith of the bandwagon fans starts to sound like the frightened little boy whistling in the dark trying to conquer his own fears and doubt.