The sports world is like Tom Smykowski in Office Space: way too excited about jumping to conclusions.
The Boston Celtics’ blowout Game 1 loss had the columnists, TV analysts and fans both in Beantown and in Los Angeles calling the series over.
"One game in, and the number says it’s all over," the Associated Press’ Tim Dahlberg wrote on Friday, referring to Phil Jackson’s 47-0 run in playoff series when his team wins the first game.
The ESPN/ABC analysts, meanwhile, were tripping over themselves during the postgame show to lather Kobe Bryant (who didn’t play as well as teammate Pau Gasol) with praise and crown Phil with his 11th title.
And the buzz across social networks was perhaps the worst. Lakers fans declared the series over (one guy on Facebook predicted "Lakers in 3"; I can only hope he was kidding), while many in Boston seemed ready to write the Celtics’ Finals appearance off as a fluke.
I received texts, e-mails, phone calls, Facebook messages — all bemoaning Armageddon in Beantown.
Then something happened.
The Celtics came out firing in Game 2. Ray Allen knocked down a record-setting eight 3’s; Rajon Rondo erupted in the fourth quarter; Kobe laid an egg in the closing minutes; and Boston walked out of La La Land with a 103-94 win and home-court advantage in its pocket.
The change in tone was immediate.
Magic Johnson reminded viewers that the Celtics are for real, while Boston’s sports sites were back in good spirits, one guy writing, "Hey Fakers fans, what can you say now?"
In L.A., the same doom and gloom that plagued the East Coast after Game 1 had now infiltrated their ranks. One Lakers fan friend of mine wrote on her Facebook wall, "omg. I want to cry."
In fact, that single game was enough to propel a 180-degree change in fans’ perceptions of Ray Allen. Many of the same fans who had called Ray too old and one-dimensional during some rough patches earlier in the postseason are now back on the Shuttlesworth Express, lauding him as a leader and perhaps the NBA’s greatest shooter ever. Jeff Van Gundy, in fact, was advocating for Danny Ainge to make a contract offer at halftime.
It’s a perfect example of the back-and-forth, manic nature of today’s sports fan.
Funny thing is, the only people not buying into it are the players. Doc Rivers perhaps said it best after Boston’s Game 1 loss, when much of the sports world dismissed the C’s as too old to compete: "Whenever we lose a game, we’re too old, and whenever we win a game, we won because we have great experience."
And while that is at least partly true, Doc’s point is that he and his guys don’t let one loss (or one win, for that matter) derail the larger plan.
And make no mistake about it: The same is true for the Lakers.
"It’s a series," Bryant said after Sunday’s Game 2 defeat. "You’re trying to stay even-keel. You don’t get too high, don’t get too low after a win or a loss. You just go into the next one and take care of business."
The players and the coaches know each game is just that — a separate chance to win. Put ice on your wounds; make the necessary adjustments; rest; and come out ready to play again.
That said, there are takeaways from each game. And the Celtics have plenty to feel positive about after Game 2.
1. Rondo and Co. learned the way to open up his game is to play better defense and get on the defensive boards. Missed shots lead to fast-break offense, which leads to Rondo either getting to the rim or finding an open look for Ray or Paul Pierce on the wings.
2. Rasheed Wallace has found his muse: Gasol. Sheed looked like his old Bad Boy self, going 3-for-5 from the field and grabbing seven boards in just 18 minutes of play. That effort neutralized the loss of Kevin Garnett to foul trouble, and frustrated Ostrich Man to the point that he seemed ready to cry by game’s end.
3. Perhaps most encouraging is that both Pierce and Garnett were awful on offense for the majority of the game, and yet Boston managed to win by nine. Anytime two of your leading scorers post a combined 16 points on 4-of-16 shooting and you still get a W, you walk away feeling good about your chances in the next go-’round.
But feeling good and delivering are two separate things. The Celtics have made a habit this postseason of following up big wins with big losses.
Just rest assured that if they do, you won’t hear any of them calling the series over. Not for a long time.