Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Knee - Why it Doesn't Matter

Everyone outside of Bill Simmons has been questioning the validity of Paul Pierce's injured knee from Game 1 on Thursday night. Phil Jackson has been the most outspoken of public figures in wondering if the whole injury and being carried off the court was simply an act.

But does it really matter? Here are the facts: Pierece went down in the third quarter after having just scored eight points to bring the Celtics back from a halftime deficit. But the Celtics certainly weren't out of the woods yet. Everyone in the arena was scared out of their mind that the team's leading scorer had torn his ACL or any other terrible knee injury. Pierce was carried off the floor by teammates while grimicing and perhaps even crying. Less than ten minutes later, Pierce jogged back out of the tunnel and was immediately inserted back into the game. Shortly thereafter he made back-to-back three pointers in the span of twenty-two seconds, giving the Celtics an extended lead and driving the crowd into a delirious state. The Celtics hold on to win Game 1 and Pierce looks like he's never had any injury to his knee at all. Pierce and the Celtics then refuse to have an MRI done to see if there is any structural damage, opting instead to go with the advice of team doctors who say their exterior examinations suggest there is no major injury.

Interesting. I understand the skepticism on the part of Phil Jackson and fans of the Lakers (or really anyone interested in the games). But I don't think it matters whether or not he was actually hurt. He didn't cheat the Lakers in any way if it was all a ruse. I personally think it wasn't a serious as Pierce made it out to be. But he has played for the Celtics for a long time. He knows the significance of this series to the city and to the fans of the Celtics. I think he realized in the moment that he could turn something that probably hurt a little bit into an heroic-looking act to increase the energy of his teammates and the fans.

And that's just what happened. It doesn't matter if it was real, staged or somewhere in between. The fans bought it, his teammates bought it and the effect was an explosion of excitement and energy that pushed Boston over the top in a prettly closely contested Game 1.

With all the cynicism out there (and it has to have breached the streets of Boston even, by now) it can't really make that much of a difference in Game 2 tonight. But if the Celtics were able to get a victory at home in a game where they otherwise might not have, it can change the tide of the entire series. Instead of facing the possibility of leaving Boston tied 1-1 at best, they can now reasonably expect to be ahead 2-0 before traveling to Los Angeles on Monday. There are only seven possible games in this series, so taking one, regardless of the circumstances, is a huge step in the direction of returning the title back to Boston.

And by the way, what is the deal with having two days off between Games 1 and 2, both in Boston, and only one day off between Games 2 and 3, which includes a transcontinental flight? So far in the playoffs, the series have mostly gone long enough that there haven't been long droughts of no basketball. Until the long wait before the Finals, I've been pretty happy with that. But with a five day layoff between the conference finals and the championship series and now this ridiculous gap between games, the NBA playoff annoyance scale is moving steadily up. Couple that with the really late start times on the east coast, the league is lucky the games are going to be so good and so heavily watched.

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