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We all went into Friday evening with such high hopes. A 2-1 lead against the Cavaliers! A chance to get back in the AL East divisional race! The NHL Eastern Conference finals! Alas, such hopes were dashed and dashed hard. The Celtics were blown out 124-95. The Red Sox were similarly defeated, 10-3. The Bruins put up more of a fight, but they too lost, 5-4 in overtime. Some of these losses are easier to take than others.
In the history of 3-0 series leads, only three times did the other team come back and win the series: the 2004 Boston Red Sox over the New York Yankees, the 1975 New York Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs over the Detroit Red Wings. It’s been a while since it’s happened in the NHL, so the Bruins will probably be fine. And it’s still early enough in the season that a couple of hot streaks by the Red Sox will get them right back in the hunt for the playoffs. But the Celtics loss was very disheartening. They should’ve come into this game brimming with confidence. They’d stolen a game on the road and almost stole them both in Cleveland. Now they were playing at home. Unfortunately, the extra rest may have been just what LeBron James needed, as he torched the Celtics for 38 points.
What’s most troubling about these games is each one exposed a major weakness in the losing team, one that so far they have not had much luck in fixing. For the Celtics, it was their inability to start games quickly. In the first quarter they were outscored 36-19, and it only got worse from there. Facing this deficit and early foul trouble (what IS it with refereeing at the Garden this season?), the Celtics were forced to turn to their bench. While they scored 38 points, including double-digit points from Nate Robinson and Tony Allen, they had a combined +/- of -25. Granted this is not as bad as the starters played (-120 combined), but it was still way too much to ask of a bench that lacks scoring threats beyond Glen Davis. If the Celtics can’t start their games stronger and play cleaner basketball (once again they were hit with foul trouble early in the game), they’re going to lose the series.
For the Red Sox, the problems start and stop with pitching. Starting pitching, to be exact. John Lackey and Jon Lester seem to have figured things out, but Josh Beckett still hasn’t. He gave up nine earned runs to the New York Yankees. This is unacceptable against any team, let alone one as strong as the Yankees, who boast an incredibly strong starting pitching rotation. It’s an even-numbered year, so we’re probably not going to get much from Beckett this season. But he has to prove he was worth the contract he signed and at least pitch better than THIS! He gave up all of his runs in the fourth and the sixth. The fourth inning saw most of the Yankees getting their second look at Josh Beckett. This means he did not pitch creatively enough. The sixth inning was Beckett’s last. This means he still has stamina issues and has not built his strength up sufficiently to go deep in games. The lone bright spot was Tim Wakefield, who did a decent job in relief, giving up just one additional run (on a sacrifice fly) on two additional hits.
For the Bruins, I think they played as hard as they could, but they’re banged up. Marco Sturm and David Krejci are both out for the playoffs, and Marc Savard is still coming back into game-form after suffering that devastating hit and concussion at the hands of Matt Cooke. The Bruins have had trouble scoring all season. While they’re scoring more now, their defense needs to step up. Too many times did the Flyers, playing with far more intensity than the Bruins, control the puck on Boston’s ice. In truth, the Bruins maybe were lucky to send this game to overtime. Overall, we can look at this game as more of a hiccup and less as the beginning of a trend. The Bruins still have three chances, including two in Boston, to clinch this series. All signs point to them doing it, and probably in their next game.
The Celtics are slow, the Red Sox can’t pitch, and the Bruins need to solidify their defense. These are difficult issues to correct at this point in the season. And yet there is hope. The Celtics HAVE beaten the Cavaliers, both in the regular season and the playoffs, both home and on the road. The Red Sox HAVE beaten the Yankees, although it was the first game of the season. And the Bruins are up 3-1 on the Flyers. Most likely they will be fine. But as one team wins or loses, so do all of the teams playing that night seem to follow suit. So as we head to Game Four of the C’s-Cavs series and the finale of Sox-Yanks on Sundays, we must remain fans of both teams simultaneously. One team’s victory or defeat might empower or doom the other team’s chances.