Wednesday, June 18, 2008

At the sports desk: another championship for Boston, and the lessons it can teach us

The Celtics defeat the Lakers in game 6 of the NBA Finals and win the title. As the Washington Post put it:

"This revived rivalry of the most successful franchises in NBA history was mostly a lopsided affair this time, with the Celtics improving to 9-2 against the Lakers in the NBA Finals. The Lakers suffered one of the greatest losses in NBA Finals history. Boston led by 43 points in the biggest Finals-clinching victory in NBA history."

I think we learned some things, and should be reminded of some things, from this last game and the whole series:

1. Defense wins championships. The Celtics' D was superior--see especially this final game.

2. Again, we see that Kobe Bryant is no Michael Jordan. I thought Bryant, after he hit a couple of early 3s in the game, both began to believe that he had to win the game all by himself, and began settling for deep shots. The Celtics indeed double- and triple-teamed him. So he settled for deep bombs, rather than trying to set up his teammates. Sorry--Jordan would have handled it differently (and more effectively).

3. We see too how things mental affect team sports. There's no question that both teams played a bit differently when they were at home vs when they were on the road. In Boston in games 1, 2, and 6, the Celtics were the aggressors--penetrating, driving to the hoop, shooting with confidence, going to the free throw line way more than their opponents. Their mindset obviously, at home, was one confidence and of being aggressive. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles for games 3, 4, and 5, that was the Lakers' mindset--they were far more aggressive and played with far more verve and drive than they did in Boston. This is why they jumped out to big leads in all 3 games at home, went to the line more often, etc.

The difference in the series was that Boston's defense was better, and was able to get crucial stops late in game 4; and, thus, Boston on the road in game 4 was able to overcome the difficulties and mental challenges of playing away from home. They withstood the Lakers' early barrage in that game, and gained confidence and aggressiveness as the game went on.

It's a real mental challenge to withstand the difficulties of playing away from home. But champions are able to do it. In sports, teams need to pay even more attention to the mental aspect of the game than they do.