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In true geek fashion, I spent roughly 33.3% of my childhood transfixed by the likes of Mario, Link, and the guy who ended up being a girl in Metroid. My best friend, Will the hyperactive genius, was there with me through countless pixelated adventures, mashing buttons until our unblinking eyes required drops.
Against all odds, Will now makes a living playing and writing about video games over at Gamespy.com. In two words: dream job. Will does what he loves, he’s paid well, and his job is absurdly fun. He also complains about it as much as a guy who sells widgets for a living.
And there’s the rub: no matter what you do for a living, be it playing video games or selling widgets, your mind will always be quick to point out everything wrong with your station in life, no matter how trivial. As Freud wrote; “The goal towards which the pleasure principle impels us—of becoming happy—is not attainable.” Ah, the human condition.
It’s the same with Boston sports. No matter how well our beloved teams have been playing for the past decade, we punch them full of more holes than Tiger Woods’ story about his mysterious car “accident.”
Which brings us to the point of this drawn out lead: the Celtics, a squad numerous pundits deemed capable of surpassing Chicago’s record 72-win regular season, are not a great team—far from it. After losing three straight, including two games to vastly inferior opponents, all of Boston’s numerous holes have been exposed.
In honor of the titles that captivated Will and I in our youth (and to keep this from becoming a deeply depressing exercise in negativity), here’s a rundown of those holes presented in classic video game fashion.
Sure, the slow motion, close-up dunks were a thrill. But the real secret to winning in Double Dribble was knowing where the sweet spot was. Take a three pointer from that precise, tiny glitch in the top right corner, and you were guaranteed three points—even if you jumped out of bounds and released your shot behind the hoop.
If the Celtics hope to compete for a title this season, they need to find their own Double Dribble glitch. From deep, Boston is shooting just 34%, and the team’s three-point specialists, Ray Allen and Eddie House, are a combined 37% on 94 for 259 shooting. And don’t even get me started about Rasheed Wallace’s dismal 28% from behind the arc. (Don’t worry, plenty on Sheed in a bit.)
But it all starts with Allen. As a card carrying member of The Big Three, Ray is expected to do Big things, and thus far this season, he hasn’t. After shooting 40% from behind the arc last year, Allen is off, shooting 34% in 2009. And in Ray’s case, the misses are magnified—Allen logs among the most minutes on the team and offers little in the way of rebounds, assists, or defense.
Jesus Shuttlesworth needs to find his sweet spot.
Tangent: In 1987, the dunk animations in Double Dribble sent kids across America into video game delirium. It represented a staggering leap forward in console graphics, even if Nintendo’s eight-bit processor could only render the animation in black and white.
Finding those scattered pieces of the Tri-Force was a grind of exploration and non-threatening monster killing. Guiding Link around Hyrule’s endless caves and labyrinth forests was as much a chore as it was entertainment. To rescue Princess Zelda, players had to be willing to put in countless hours of repetitive effort, a chore many of the kids in my neighborhood simply gave up on.
For the Celtics, finding the Tri-Force means a commitment to rebounding the basketball, and right now, it’s a commitment Boston isn’t making. Currently, the Celtics rank next to last in the NBA in total rebounds per game at 39, including a lowly 9 offensive rebounds per game.
Fewer offensive rebounds mean fewer possessions, which in turn equates to fewer opportunities for points. According to Basketballreference.com’s Pace Factor, a rating of the average number of possessions a team has per 48 minutes, the Celtics rank near the bottom of the barrel at 26th in the NBA.
Wonder why the Celtics continue to find themselves in contests with inferior teams that are shooting a far lower percentage? It’s directly linked to Boston’s lousy Pace Factor.
If the Celtics hope to compete for a title, they must commit to rebounding. In particular, they must become more active on the offensive boards and create more opportunities to score.
Tangent: The Legend of Zelda was another leap forward in gaming, featuring a battery-backed memory in the cartridge. Sadly, the technology was less than reliable, and lost saved games made many a young Zelda player—after investing countless hours into the game—catatonic.
Make even the slightest misstep with the world’s most famous Italian plumber—a jump made a fraction of a second too late or too soon—and poor Mario is dead. Whether he’s being eaten by an evil mushroom, falling into the off-screen abyss, or being crushed beneath a spiked trap, Mario’s death means one less precious life. And fewer lives makes getting to and defeating big-boss Bowser near impossible.
Unfortunately, the Celtics are making a multitude of missteps of their own this season, turning the ball over 15 times per game (including a ridiculous 25 turnovers in the recent loss to Golden State), ranking them 15th in the NBA. Given that the Celtics also rank among the worst in average possessions per game (see the Legend of Zelda), that 15 is even worse than it looks.
As we all know, turnovers can be back-breakers in close games, and if the Celtics are to defeat the big bosses of the NBA in the playoffs, they must do a better job taking care of the ball.
Tangent: Shigeru Miyamoto created Zelda and Mario, ranking him second only to George Lucas in regard to developing fictional characters that ruled the ’80s.
Throw that super punch too soon, and Little Mac misses his target and runs out of juice, making himself an easy target for the likes of the Sandman, Bald Bull, and Piston Honda—not to mention the game’s namesake. The key to this classic is working your opponent until the right opportunity for a super punch presents itself, then it’s bombs away.
For the Celtics this season, it’s been bombs away from the opening tip, with Rasheed “Technical” Wallace leading the charge. In 31 games, Wallace has attempted 146 threes, second only to Ray Allen. Considering Sheed averages 15 fewer minutes per game than Ray and is shooting just 28% from behind the arc, it’s accurate to say the big man is, as they say on the playground, a “chucker.” And while our 6’-11” center/power forward is bombing threes, he’s 23-feet away from the basket, a place where it’s not exactly common to pull down rebounds.
Wallace has never been a traditional post player, but he must help this team establish more of an inside game and work the boards. Then, when defenses begin to sag, Sheed can kick the ball out to more adept shooters for that super punch.
Tangent: I officially declare pixelated Mike Tyson to be the most insanely difficult boss in the history of video games. Back in the day, I had all the cheat sheets detailing exactly how to beat Iron Mike, and I simply could not do it. Dodge and block lightning fast haymakers without throwing a single punch for the first two minutes? Are you kidding me?
The video game version of Raiders’ running back Bo Jackson was so good, skilled players could run him from goal line to goal line and back again without getting tackled.
It was near impossible for a single defender to tackle Bo, and he frequently shook off two, three, even four opponents. To this day, Bo remains the Zeus of video game characters, and anyone who ever played with his Raiders team in Tecmo went with a play designed for Jackson 75% of the time (Mr. Raider Tim Brown was also on that squad)—100% of the time in the crunch.
For the Lakers and Cavaliers, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are Tecmo’s Bo Jackson. They are individual players that can defeat entire defenses single-handedly, stars that are given the rock without question when it counts most.
For the Celtics, Doc Rivers often calls on Paul Pierce to take the game-winning shot, but he’s also given fair share to Ray Allen, KG, and even Rondo. In other words, the Celtics don’t have a Tecmo Bo Jackson. It’s a hole that could come back to haunt the team when it matters most.
Tangent: Tecmo was so special because it was the first game to feature real professional athletes and teams. Truly a memorable experience for young sports fanatics who got to take control of their favorite NFL players.
I have to step outside the console realm for this one. Though Double Dragon did eventually find its way to Nintendo, it was single-player only, and it couldn’t hold a candle to the experience the original co-operative beat ’em up delivered in the arcade. Not only was it more fun to play the game with a friend, it was nearly a requirement. Trying to punch, kick, and elbow your way through the horde of hoods in Double Dragon alone was an exercise in futility.
In Boston, the Celtics are in desperate need of some co-op play at the point guard position. Rajon Rondo, despite his flawed jumper and Shaq-like free throw shooting, is a difference maker on this team, both offensively and defensively. Without Rondo on the court, the Celtics are a noticeably different team because they lack a true back-up point guard.
Eddie House is a good shooting guard, but asking him to run the offense isn’t his game. And when he’s paired against opposing point guards on defense, he’s typically overmatched. Ditto for Marquis Daniels. Offensively and defensively, Boston needs to play co-op at point guard.
Tangent: Ludacris unknowingly penned the secret to success in Double Dragon when he created the musical masterpiece “Throw Them ‘Bows.” No attack in the game is more powerful than the mighty elbow, though, it was a difficult-to-master combination of punch, jump, and back.
Thumb-numbingly difficult, beating Contra required Konami’s 30-lives code that would become legend: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start. Just like that, you had the juice you needed to make it through the gauntlet of evil soldiers, bullets, lasers, and robots that Contra threw at you.
This brings us to the question Boston critics have cited since the pre-season: Do the Celtics, at an average age of 28, have the life to get through the grind of the NBA season and the laser- and robot-filled gauntlet of the playoffs?
Thus far the Celtics have been exposed defensively in transition by younger, more athletic teams (Phoenix, Atlanta, Indiana, Philadephia, LAC, Golden State). If we’re having trouble keeping up with these teams now, in particular Atlanta, we could be in big trouble come playoff time—regardless of how well rested the Big Three is.
Perhaps more important than transition defense is overall health. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have already missed games due to injury, and we’re not even half way through the season. Pierce, Garnett, and Ray Allen have more miles on their legs than Forrest Gump, and it’s a real possibility the Celtics will have to battle through the playoffs without one of them in the lineup.
The Celtics can easily adjust their offense to shoot fewer threes, they can commit to rebounding, turn the ball over less, and Ray Allen most likely will get out of his funk. Unfortunately, there may not be a patch for the team’s age.
Here’s to hoping Danny Ainge is working on his own version of the 30-lives code.