Sometimes, it’s chemistry that matters most. Can the Celtics get it together?
A few things I care about . . .
■ Though it’s only been a few weeks since the confetti fell on the Patriots, it doesn’t feel as if the glow has had time to wear off the Red Sox’ championship run, making it hard to believe they’re back at work already.
Yet as the Sox gather in Florida and take their first steps toward defending their World Series win, I couldn’t help but think about the similarities between what they did in the fall and what the Patriots did earlier this month. Not so much for anything accomplished on the field, but for the vibe in their locker rooms.
Both teams rode remarkable chemistry all the way to a title. Which makes you wonder, if the Celtics don’t find some of that alchemy soon, is there any chance of a deep playoff run?
For all the quantifiable qualities that mark a team championship-worthy, sometimes it’s the non-quantifiable characteristics that matter the most.
In the case of the Patriots, there was an unmistakable sense of unity, a bond forged through some uncharacteristic dips in the season, when losing streaks didn’t threaten to unravel their resolve but rather to galvanize it.
Make fun of them all you want for grabbing hold of the underdog role, for selling a nobody-believes-in-us rallying cry despite their two decades of dominance, but for this group it worked, bringing them together against what they perceived as a common enemy.
When the tough times hit, they didn’t turn on each other, but to each other.
“I’ll tell you this, this was the most satisfying year I’ve ever been part of,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said in Atlanta after winning Super Bowl LIII. “How we came together, the obstacles we had to overcome, the grind from the beginning of training camp to now, it’s just surreal.
“We went through life this year. We figured it out, we found our identity. We stuck together.”
The Red Sox barely hit any speed bumps last season, but after flaming out in the playoffs two straight years, there was definitely something different under first-year manager Alex Cora. For All-Star J.D. Martinez, who signed during spring training last year, it soon became obvious what that was.
“When all my friends and family ask me what the difference is with this team, and stuff like that, I’m like, ‘Honestly, there’s no egos.’ There really isn’t,” Martinez said in a late-season interview on WEEI. “Everybody is pushing for each other.
“You could go in that clubhouse, and you wouldn’t know Chris Sale is the best pitcher in baseball. You talk to Mookie [Betts], and you wouldn’t think he’s the best player in baseball. They’re that humble. You talk to David [Price], it’s the same thing.
“It’s just a bunch of guys who are rooting for each other and want the best.’’
Journeyman Steve Pearce, who joined the team in a midseason trade, saw it too.
“The obvious thing is, you look around and the talent here is unbelievable, but what I like most is the chemistry part of it,” Pearce said. “You walk in the clubhouse and everybody is together. It’s a small clubhouse, so everybody is talking. Seems like everybody has a different kind of relationship with everybody. ”
Before notching a quality win Tuesday night in Philadelphia, the Celtics were making headlines for the wrong reasons, back-to-back home losses to the Lakers and Clippers leading veteran Marcus Morris to detail their chemistry issues. Unlike a year ago, when they bonded in the wake of injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving and made it all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, they are having trouble establishing chemistry this year.
“For me, it’s not really about the loss,” Morris said after the Celtics blew a 28-point lead to the Clippers. “It’s about the attitudes that we’re playing with. Guys are hanging their heads. It’s just not fun. It’s not fun. We’re not competing at a high level. Even though we’re winning, it’s not fun.
“I don’t see the joy in the game. I watch all these other teams around the league and guys are up on the bench, they’re jumping on the court, they’re doing all of this other stuff that looks like they’re enjoying their teammates’ success.
“They’re enjoying everything, and they’re playing together and they’re playing to win. And when I look at us, I just see a bunch of individuals.”
In other words, no chemistry. And as the Patriots and Red Sox proved, it matters.
■ Oh NFL, how can you continue to disappoint me? Let me count the ways.
Not that I ever thought Kareem Hunt would be out of the league forever, not at his age (23) and with his talent. But when Cleveland general manager John Dorsey scooped Hunt off the rubbish pile this week, claiming the player banished from Kansas City after being involved in multiple violent altercations and lying about them to team brass, when Dorsey couldn’t even be bothered to wait until the league finished an investigation of Hunt, I found it sad.
Dorsey’s insistence that he had done a thorough investigation and his belief that Hunt was a “changed man” rang hollow when he acknowledged that he did not speak with the victim in the most recent case of violence (when video captured Hunt punching and kicking a woman outside a Cleveland hotel room last February) and when he declined to detail any sort of counseling work Hunt may have done since being put on the commissioner’s exempt list.
■ While we’re at it, watching former Baylor football coach Art Briles get yet another big-time interview was a reminder that the NFL isn’t the only one getting this wrong. Briles ultimately had no shot at an assistant job at Southern Mississippi, not after the athletic director bowed almost immediately to a public outcry, but that didn’t stop head coach Jay Hopson from issuing a statement of strong disagreement with his boss. He supported Briles’s contrition and faith in God as justification for another job.
Can’t help but wonder where those sympathies were while Briles was overseeing a disgusting football culture at Baylor, when multiple players were accused of rape and victims were continually ignored by those in power.
■ I’ve written plenty about my opinion on Greg Schiano as the Patriots’ new defensive coordinator (thumbs up) but let’s take one last moment to credit the work of Brian Flores, whose defense was fantastic against the Rams and whose connection with his players was evident.
“He is a great person, and that is what makes him special,” Jason McCourty said. “Obviously, X’s and O’s as a coach, holding that offense to 3 points, he has that. But him as a person, how much he cares about everyone in the locker room, is amazing.”
“A hell of a coach,” Kyle Van Noy said. “A great motivator. He pushes you hard as hell and that’s a good thing, we want that. I’m just proud as a player under him and I learned so much.”
■ Major League Baseball deserves plenty of scrutiny for its high-end free agency problem, with superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado still leading the ranks of the unemployed. But give the game’s brain trust credit for getting this one right. With one small word change, dropping “disabled list” in favor of “injured list,” baseball showed sensitivity and understanding to how our language can grow and change.
People with disabilities do not consider themselves injured, nor do their disabilities automatically mean they can’t compete. Just ask Jim Abbott. Or Shaquem Griffin.
■ Kudos also to WNBA star Maya Moore, who decided to skip the upcoming season with the Minnesota Lynx to focus on a higher calling. As she wrote for The Players’ Tribune, Moore will focus on “some ministry dreams that have been stirring in my heart for many years.”
A four-time WNBA champion and two-time NCAA champ at Connecticut, Moore wrote, “The success that I’ve been a part of in basketball truly blows my mind every time I think about it. But the main way I measure success in life is something I don’t often get to emphasize explicitly through pro ball.
“I measure success by asking, ‘Am I living out my purpose?’ I learned a long time ago that my purpose is to know Jesus and to make Him known.”