Basking in the Sweet Afterglow

Kurt —  February 6, 2009

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles LakersI’ve said before that I don’t think there is much if any carry over from regular season games to the playoffs.

Man, I hope I’m wrong.

Last night provided not only another thrilling game, not only more proof that these two teams are pretty evenly matched, but also even more hope that these Lakers are evolving into a champion. A Lakers team with a ton of excuses to lose rejected them all and found a way to win. Reed laid out a very good argument as to why I am wrong an this game and that kind of win will matter.

While basking in the sweet afterglow of victory, I will kindly disagree with Kurt’s statement regarding the meaning of the game and join with Lazenby.

Psychology does matter in sports. A great deal. The mystery is that, because we are disconnected from the players, we can’t accurately identify when an influential swing in psyche has occurred or why. But the swings do occur and they do affect the outcome of games on the court.

Why did the Lakers get blown away in game 6 of the finals? Were they suddenly less talented than the team that blitzed the West or that hung tight with Boston the first 3 games? No – it was pure psychology. Boston broke their spirit in the game 4 comeback and that was that.

Why did LA destroy Toronto last January on the day they announced the Gasol trade – with no Drew and almost too few players to suit up? Psychology.

Why did Dallas lose 3 games in a row to an inferior Heat team (besides the refs…)? The psychological burden of being up big in game 3 and blowing the win crushed them.

Why do Horry and Fisher consistently make clutch shots while more talented players (Christie, Malone, Peja, Nick Anderson, Bryon Russell) shrink? Psychology.

Why did the Celtics lose 7 games immediately after winning 19 in a row this year? Did they sustain an injury? No – it was the psychological swing of falling from the top of the world to being beaten by bitter rivals on the public stage.

Now, the hand of psychology can only be accurately identified in hindsight, not predicted. LA might come out of this win overconfident and complacent, or confident and focused, or the same as before; Boston might get fired up and go on another win streak, or sustain another temporary fall, or neither. But, whatever happens, I think the psychological fallout of this game will be a factor. The players, coaches, even fans were heavy with desire, focus, and emotion. The result may not technically matter come May or June, but it will practically matter a great deal then – indeed this win might be a source of critical resolve in some critical future playoff test, when the players dig deep and realize they have faced adversity before and conquered. Odom may calmly approach key free throws, rather than nervously smile; Pau may embrace a crunch time post up, rather than expectantly look for Kobe.

A win is a win, but sometimes it is more. Tonight seemed to be one of those nights. LA will come out of this stronger and Boston weaker. I expect a swing of psyche for both.

I hope he is right.