Thursday, May 10, 2012

Backs Against The Wall.

I remember with perfect clarity the first time I stepped into the arena proper within the TD Garden.  That the Celtics were not my team was immaterial at that moment.  As a lifelong NBA basketball fanatic, suddenly the "Celtic Mystique", that threadbare and nondescript phrase, made a lot of sense.  You raise your eyes to those seventeen championship banners and that litany of retired jerseys.  Then you lower them and gaze at that parquet floor, transported to its present location in order to preserve the surface upon which the sneakers of generations of basketball titans trod and squeaked.  You share all of this with the pregame crowd jostling around, reeking of beer and high-wattage excitement; the understanding that the place holds a specialness is transmuted through instant osmosis.  It's the feel of the thing that counts.  Sure, the ghosts are there, even if they had to follow the parquet across town to make it.  But the ghosts aren't the point.

Older Boston natives will undoubtedly scoff at the preceding paragraph.  They sat in the original, non-air-conditioned, sightline-obstructed Boston Garden, and I'm sure they'll regard an outsider's reverence of the new incarnation with disdain.  (As they regard pretty much everything about outsiders.)  Nonetheless, I was there and I know what I saw and felt.  Maybe TD Garden ain't THE Boston Garden, but it is most definitely the metaphysical heir thereof.

All of which is to say: I know exactly what my beloved Hawks are up against tonight.  They have to contend with Kevin Garnett's vicious intensity and Paul Pierce's essential Truth-iness.  They're dealing with Ray Allen's pristine jumper and Rajon Rondo's all-around ingenuity.  They're certainly pitting a heavily over-matched Larry Drew against Doc Rivers.  And, tired as it sounds, they're up against that "Celtic Mystique."

It's not a figment or fabrication, either.  It isn't magic or voodoo or ephemeral haze.  When I said earlier that the ghosts aren't the point, what I meant is this: the "Celtic Mystique" isn't the last whiff of Red Auerbach's cigar, it's the crowd.  They define, in the lexicon of passion and fervor, that long-vaunted aura of invincibility.  Whatever crowd happens to fill the seats in the TD Garden, just like the crowds in the old Garden, carries with it a specific emotional resonance.  They are single-minded and obsessed, and they are legion.  I have been in that building for a playoff game, and I can tell you as a neutral observer that it's a minefield for the opposition.  There's a symbiosis between the crowd and the team, a reciprocal fulfillment of shared hopes that hums and quakes over the course of a game.  The only function of the folks in the stands is to demoralize those wearing the visitors' uniforms and elevate the guys in green and white.  For the duration of the clock, every Celtic is a god, every foe is a devil, and every ref is vilified or sainted depending on how his whistle blows.  That sort of ubiquitous and unrelenting psychosis can wreak havoc on the interlopers.

The Hawks have two things going for them tonight.  First, the core of this team has been in that building, under very similar circumstances, before.  On the losing side of the effort, but still.  Second, and more importantly, they have their anchor back.  Al Horford is the beacon, the nucleus around which the erratic and disparate natures of Josh Smith and Joe Johnson and all the rest can revolve without total dissolution.  His reemergence last game was a reminder of what this team was intended to look like before injuries decimated the frontcourt, and that image is somewhat wonderful.  I've been watching the game as I type this (I beg your pardon for the late finish to this post), and the second quarter is just underway with the Hawks up 28-25.  I can only hope the lead will ultimately hold.  I can only hope the TD Garden Crowd, the heart and guts and true curators of the Celtic Mystique, won't fulfill their traditional roll tonight.

Tonight, with our backs against the wall, I hope the Hawks can close their ears to the deafening roars of history and mythology and sheer Bostonian dickheadedness.  To diffuse the Celtic Mystique, we must shut it out.  We must be deaf, and we must also play a masterpiece of a game.

Come on Hawks, let's go Beethoven on their ass.    

No comments:

Post a Comment