Away games to the Celtics are always a bit special to me. I can still remember the first time I saw a Celtics home game – strictly speaking, a 90-minute game recap with commercial breaks, because that’s what we got on German television twice a week back in 1993. The Celtics lost the game to the Pacers. It was in November, only a few months after their star wing Reggie Lewis had tragically died. You could only feel sorry for the Celtics: Their future was gone; their past was still there. A 40-year-old Robert Parish was still starting (26.9 mpg), still scoring (11.7 ppg), boarding (7.3 rbg), and blocking shots (1.3 bpg). What was left of their future were Sherman Douglas and Dee Brown – a fun backcourt, but at 6’0 and 6’1 too small to succeed together.
The other things I remember about that game: The wrecking ball that was Dale Davis (Indiana Pacers, a “power forward” in the truest sense of the word) and that beautiful square hardwood of the Boston Garden. I always had a soft spot for recognizable stadiums and sports venues, and there are three things about NBA arenas I remember very fondly from the 1993/94 season:
- The lowly lit America West Arena and the music when the Barkley-led Phoenix Suns took to the court.
- The massive curtains behind the low-level seating area in the Alamodome, the fiesta-colored zones, and that lovely Western-style “Alamodome” lettering behind the end lines.
- But most of all, I remember the square hardwood in the Boston Garden, with which I fell in love with immediately while watching the Celtics loss to the Pacers.
Though the green has changed, the parquet squares are still there today. It’s why Spurs v Celtics is my favorite away game each season, and why it’s one of the very few regular season games I still get up for in the middle of the night. That’s what I planned to do Friday night as well.
I went to bed at 10:30 pm CET, and I set the alarm to 1.25am. Though I managed to get up, I was too asleep to remember why. Dazed and confused, I went back to bed. When I opened my eyes at around 6 o’clock this morning, it was already light. I had missed the game.
Without further ado, I got up and started the game on league pass. The second after, the game was already just about ruined for me. I couldn’t enjoy the Spurs putting up a performance that reminded me of the KD-led Warriors from recent years and the “beautiful game Spurs” from shortly before that: stellar ball movement, Manu-esque playmaking, and shot after shot going through the rim on the offensive side, while forcing turnover after turnover on the other. I watched all that knowing they were going to lose the 32-point lead. Here’s why: I forgot to close my eyes when I started the game. I saw the broadcast was to last 2 hours and 57 minutes – ie. I knew the game was going into overtime. So, the only thing left for me to hope was the Spurs were going to win in overtime. Which they didn’t.
- If Adam Silver approached me and said: “August, you’ve been following the NBA for almost 30 years now, you have a league pass since we’ve offered it, and in all those years you haven’t convinced a single person from your neck of the woods to also buy a league pass. In case you fail to convince someone to sign up in the next seven days, we will cancel your subscription for good.” Then my plan would be this: I’d show a league pass prospect last night’s game. Because it had everything the league could hope for: an incredible “beautiful game” team performance in the first half, an even more incredible comeback in the second, the GOAT coach sporting GOAT hair on the one side, an “everybody’s darling” coach you couldn’t say a bad word about if you wanted to on the other, flagrant fouls, overtime, and in the end, a superstar prevailing. One way to read this game: It was decided because the home team’s star scored 60, and the away games star “only” 30. (One of the more interesting questions discussed in NBA podcasts these days is whose league it will be once LeBron, Kawhi and KD are past their primes. One-way superstars Luka Doncic and Zion Williamson are usually mentioned first. That’s strange to me. The Celtics have two excellent two-way wings.)
- I often watch away games with the home team’s commentators on, because I’m interested to find out what they have to say about our team. For years when the Spurs played the Celtics, that meant listening to Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn. Homerism aside, I always thought that Gorman’s cold-nosed, hard-ass style matched up nicely with Heinsohn’s excited yelps. Frankly, I miss Heinsohn. Any 80-something who gets so ecstatic about the players of the team he once played for, mostly lesser players than he was, has my heart. Back to why I listen to the home commentators during away games: Disregarding the usual complaints about fouls or non-fouls, Gorman and Heinsohn-successor Brian Scalabrine had nice things to say about the Spurs in general and DeMar DeRozan in particular. When the latter was taking a couple of free-throws in the first quarter, the two said this about him.
o Gorman: “This is a guy that doesn’t get talked about enough. He’s just a terrific player.”
o Scalabrine: “DeMar DeRozan? Big time! At the beginning of the year, ESPN ranked him 82nd (?) best player in the league. And he was offended by that.”
o Gorman (laughing sarcastically): “I wouldn’t think he would be.”
o Scalabrine: “He come out this year, 22 points, 7 assists…”
o Gorman: “He does that year after year after year.”
They later also mentioned that 29 percent of DeMar’s points come at the free-throw line, which is, apparently, third-best in the league. They also acknowledged the drafting prowess of the Spurs organization. In short, a nice change from homers who think Manu Ginóbili is from Venezuela.
- I recently mentioned it in the comments section, and I will reiterate it here: I’m all for offering Lonnie Walker a contract extension. I neither hope nor predict, but it’s perfectly possible we lose Patty Mills in the summer. Lonnie has proved he can be an above-average high-level three-point shooter from the bench – which is basically Patty’s role as a player. And I believe that Lonnie can improve with increased usage. Yes, his BPM and play-by-play figures are not looking good. But I’d be happy if the Spurs were to take a flyer on him. I think he’s worth it.
- I refuse to complain about anything after last night’s game. Nail-biters are won and lost for all kinds of reasons, and I saw the Spurs play some very good basketball Friday night. That’s good enough for me.
- What I learned, personally: Never – I repeat: NEVER! – forget to close your eyes when you start a Spurs game on league pass that is already finished.