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Celtics Playoff Prospects, Courtesy of SportsNation

ESPN SportsNation doesn't think the Celtics will be back in the Finals in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Barry Chin, Boston Globe)

ESPN SportsNation polls are a guilty pleasure of mine. I take them quite seriously. I participate daily. The polls make me feel like I am a part of some greater good. Sports fans need to express themselves, and what better way to do so than a set of multiple choice questions with no room for elaboration or explanation? I genuinely think over my answers before making a selection. Once I have toiled over my choice, I avidly study the nifty little map that pops up to see what the voting tendencies are in other states. I even try to justify other people’s choices. “Those people in Montana probably don’t even know who Joe Mauer is,” or “Of course 80% of Indiana thinks Butler will win.” These polls bring some degree of happiness to my day.

What follows are three polls from the past week which are relevant to the Celtics playoff hopes.

Poll #1

While perusing through the polls on Monday morning, one poll stood out to me. The question: Which team is in worse shape for the playoffs? The options: Celtics or Spurs. Now, the timing on this poll was quite opportune (or inopportune), as the Spurs had just Embarrassed (with a capital E) the Celtics in Boston the night before. Fifty-seven percent of 9,368 voters chose the Celtics.

Pause, blank stare, check to see that I read the poll correctly…

Yup. Fifty-seven percent think the Spurs are better equipped for the playoffs than the Celtics.

WHAT?!? How are the Celtics in worse shape for the playoffs than the Spurs? The Spurs, whose point guard is out with a broken right hand! The Spurs, whose bat-snatching shooting guard is day-to-day with back spasms! The Spurs, who are currently holding on to the eighth (and final) playoff spot in the West!

Sunday’s game may have skewed public perception, but put that aside, and Boston is in much better shape than San Antonio right now. Boston will likely face either Milwaukee or Miami in the first round, while San Antonio will likely match up with the Lakers. The Celtics are about as healthy as they have been all season, as Kendrick Perkins (knee tendonitis) and Nate Robinson (ankle) are the only injuries to speak of (knock really, really hard on wood). Going into Sunday’s Spurs game, the Celtics were 11-4 in March and boasted notable wins over Dallas and Denver. In those fifteen games, five different players led the team in scoring. Guys are starting to come into their roles, and things seem to be coming together. Sunday’s loss to the Spurs, just like the late-February loss to the Nets, was a fluke. An anomaly. A chance to get some last-minute kinks out.

Right?

Upon perusing the same poll on Tuesday morning, even after the Spurs followed up their Boston massacre with a loss to the Nets (which admittedly, by the aforementioned logic, may have been a fluke), I found that SportsNation stood firm about the Celtics playoff prospects. After 37,245 votes, 55% of respondents said that the Celtics are in worse shape than the Spurs. Even in Massachusetts, only 48% think that the Celtics are better off. Just under half of Massachusetts poll-takers deem their team better than Tim Duncan and the Spurs. Seems that faith in the Celtics is wavering – even for hometown fans, even after the Spurs lost to the Nets. Ouch.

Poll #2

A subsequent SportsNation poll may help in understanding people’s wariness about the Celtics. Immediately following the Celtics/Spurs question was the following: Is Kevin Garnett still an elite player? The options: Yes or No. Fifty-four percent of nearly 32,000 respondents answered “No.” Even in Massachusetts, only 55% answered “Yes.” There doesn’t even seem to be a lot of hometown love for KG.

When “The Big Ticket” is no longer perceived as elite, neither is his team. Never mind that Paul Pierce has led the Celtics in scoring in nine of their last fifteen games, or that Rondo is fourth in the league (and first in the East) in assists per game. The Celtics are more than any one player. Even though KG’s waning numbers may attract some negative attention, there’s a whole roster full of guys who can pick up the slack. And oh, by the way, KG’s “waning” numbers have consisted of three consecutive double-doubles. It’s all relative. So, while KG may be the face of the franchise, the franchise still has other players who can save its face.

Poll #3

A final Celtic-related poll from last week asked the following: How far will the Celtics advance in the playoffs? Just over 32,000 votes broke down like this:

  • Lose in first round: 27%
  • Lose in conference semi-finals: 36%
  • Lose in conference finals: 25%
  • Lose in NBA Finals: 5%
  • Win NBA Finals: 8%

It is pretty safe to assume that people are banking on the Cavs and Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals, so it makes sense that most voters have Boston losing in the conference semis. That 27% of respondents have Boston losing in the first round is a bit alarming, but given those other two polls, is not altogether surprising. The Celtics have had to deal with questions about age and health and longevity all season. Boston has been both great and abysmal. Advancing deep into the playoffs isn’t far-fetched for this team. Then again, neither is losing in the first round. The vote is spread pretty evenly for a Celtic exit sometime before the NBA Finals. This lack of specificity attests to the Celtics’ potential to contend.

Not surprisingly, 42% of Massachusetts poll-takers said that the Celtics would win the NBA Finals. Now that is the hometown love we’re looking for.

All Things Considered…

My guess is that the SportsNation polls are not particularly scientific and might not even be entirely accurate, but that’s part of their appeal. All questions of legitimacy aside, these polls provide some insight into the crazy minds of sports fans. The nifty map blatantly reveals hometown biases, so the polls allow me to step out of my Celtic-centric world and into a broader representation of people’s views on sports.

SportsNation is not American Idol or the Presidential Election. These polls and a dollar will get you a Sausage McMuffin at McDonalds. I bet a bunch of people saw that Boston lost on Sunday, assumed that the Spurs are the better team, and voted accordingly. I disagree, but I’m sure any Spurs fan would disagree with me, and any Nets fan would say that none of their ten wins have been flukes.

It’s somewhat refreshing to see that not everyone has high hopes for the Celtics in the playoffs. I respect the opinions of SportsNation, even if they differ from my own. If everyone agreed, it wouldn’t be fun to be a sports fan, these polls wouldn’t exist, and my days would lose several degrees of happiness.

(For the record, my poll responses were Spurs, No, and Lose in conference semis.)

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Discussion

One comment for “Celtics Playoff Prospects, Courtesy of SportsNation”

  1. If I had a chance to vote in those polls…I’d chose Spurs, No (though that would be a hard decision), and Lose in Conference semis.

    Posted by KC Downey | March 31, 2010, 6:27 pm

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