SACO, Maine — Playoff games, by definition, mean more than regular season contests. First, in the sense that there are less of them (duh), which adds to the anxiety in the building; two, there’s a sense of urgency, at least among the fans, because the end could come at any moment; and finally, if those involved fail to win, they lose their jobs.
The playoffs are a BFD*.
It’s also important to remember all sporting events mean more to “us” than it does to “them.” “Them,” of course, being the athletes (see Beckett, Josh). Coaches probably care as much as we do, at least it appears so, but since I am neither a professional athlete or coach, it was just straight up pretty cool to attend NBA playoff games in both Los Angeles and Boston in the span of a week, recently.
The Celtics and Clippers. The complete opposite of the basketball spectrum. Seventeen championship banners hang in the Boston Garden; Los Angeles’s second basketball team has eight playoff appearances in 42-year history in three different cities. On the drive back to Maine after the 76ers’ 82-81 win I thought about the differences between the two venues, the crowds, the styles of the games themselves and, of course, the teams involved.
I had a parter in crime for each game and how we came to attend both started the same way: a simple IM/text which more or less read “game tonight?” For the Clippers, my buddy Eric and I decided to go at 10 a.m. the day of. It didn’t take much convincing on my part to get him on board. Once we got to downtown Los Angeles, we were full-fledged members of Clippers Nation.
I’ll let @TheGhostMo take it from here:
Walking into the men’s bathroom at Staples Center, minutes before tip-off, I almost collided with three Orthodox Jewish men. These weren’t your Larry David-esque Jewish men. I’m talking real orthodox, complete with long curly side burns, yarmulkes, and formal suits. I would have thought I was on the corner of Beverly and Hauser, except for one thing: all three wore bright red “LAC RISEN” t-shirts over their suits. 4,000 years of religion couldn’t beat out Clipper fever on this night.
These three gentlemen weren’t the only ones wearing the complimentary garb. The entire men’s room bled red to the point that it wouldn’t look out of place on The Game’s album cover. There was only one person who wasn’t wearing the shirt, who instead had it slung over his shoulder, trying to look cool. That person was me.
I’m from Milwaukee. I grew up thinking it was commonplace to tailgate before every baseball game. I remember seeing a woman wear a Green Bay Packers Mark Chmura jersey…to the courtroom for his sexual assault trial. Every stadium in Wisconsin reeks of barley and hops and that’s the way we like it.
Since moving to LA, I’ve seen the Lakers play at home for every round of the playoffs, save the Finals. For the most part I’ve been disappointed. Everyone at Lakers games wishes (or incorrectly thinks) they’re part of the spotlight, that they’re on par with Jack Nicholson. People dress like they’re going to a club and stay hunkered on their cellphones like Obama is sexting them.
That’s why I hadn’t put on my shirt on yet. Because I figured the Clippers’ playoff scene would be more of the same. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As I exited the bathroom, an almost certainly intoxicated man grabbed my shoulder. “You’re putting the shirt on, right???” At that exact moment, I felt something hit my shoe. I looked down and saw an empty plastic bottle of tequila rolling past. Smiling, I threw the shirt on with glee and gave the stranger a massive high five. I’ve never felt more at home in this city. #LobCityBaby
That the Clippers won in overtime only added to the hysteria. It almost felt like we were back in the 315, head-to-toe in blue and orange; it was that type of crowd, which hasn’t been said for a Clippers game in, I’m guessing, ever. Sadly, there were no more LA games for us. Baby Brother edged the Grizzlies in 7 games only to be swept at the Spurs’ hand in the next round. Oh to what next year will bring, and if Chris Paul and Blake Griffin stay with the team beyond then, there could be many more years of postseason chances for the Lobbers.
A week later, in Boston, on the other hand, I expected 19,000 Sullys, Tommys and extras from “The Town” to be drunk, loud and drunk. I also didn’t expect to get a free T-shirt upon arrival. Matt, whom I called upon to attend the day before (along with my bro-in-law, who I convinced to call out sick from work) and is as just a big of a Celtics fan as me, said we’d get towels. He was correct. We also got placards with a gigantic “3” on it, presumably to hold up after someone on our team hit a 3-pointer. Fans are such sheep. I grabbed two of each.
It didn’t matter that we were sitting in the upper deck behind the basket, just being part of a legendary Celtics playoff crowd was something to behold. From the “Dee-Fence” chants on big possessions, to “Let’s Go Celtics!” on others, it was beyond loud at times and abrasive at others. A hot start by the home team became a faded memory by the third quarter when the 76ers took the lead. By the time the 4th quarter rolled around there wasn’t a butt in a seat and the roar when Avery Bradley hit a 3 with just over two minutes left to put the Celtics up 1 could be heard all the way in Worcester.
But, in the end, the sea of green couldn’t will the home chaps to victory, as the 76ers eeked out the one-point win — Kevin Garnett drained a meaningless 3 with no time left that surely only the gamblers cared about. I always enjoy the scene after games in Boston; everyone bitching about this and that, and the T-shirt vendors selling rubes at LeBron James, the Heat and my favorite, an homage to Greg Steimsma, the Celtics enthusiastic backup center. They’re cheap, and I’ve bought some in the past after Red Sox games. Matt got a couple and we made our way home.
The 90-minute or so drive back home after game in Boston, especially after a loss, is a lot like driving home from Las Vegas. You and your buddies usually just sit in silence, maybe make a Dunkin stop and it isn’t until you hit the Maine border before someone speaks up. Usually it’s an expletive about the game; kinda like how you curse the tables in Vegas by the time you hit Barstow.
Back in Los Angeles, the games start three hours earlier and those wearing Green are few and far between. With Game 7 vs. Philadelphia set for Saturday, and the Lakers car flags replaced by finger pointing for their early exit, I’ll take solace that we have at least one more game.
I’ll be there in spirit.
* – Big. Fu^king. Deal.