Monday, April 20, 2009
Across the Pond: Heartbreak Hill: When is a “Must Win” Really a Must Win?
By Terry Lyons http://www.terrylyons.com
BOSTON – April 20, 2009 - - Boston, Massachusetts is a sports town and today, it is Patriots’ Day when we celebrate one of the greatest days on the annual sports calendar. Patriots’ Day is a holiday in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that commemorates the important milestones of the Battles of Lexington and Concord in the Revolutionary War. We’ll leave the war stories to the historians but quickly make note that most Bostonians wake-up on their holiday with full knowledge that it is “RaceDay.” Yes, Patriots’ Day is the day the Boston Athletic Association stages the greatest of the American road races, the Boston Marathon.
For the past seven months, I have been fortunate enough to live in Newton Centre, Massachusetts which is a 9-iron away from Boston College in the hilly suburbs of The Hub. Newton is the location of the Boston Marathon's famed and devastating Heartbreak Hill. The hills come between the 20 and 21 mile mark of the marathon, a place where runners commonly hit that Pink Floyd of a term, “The Wall.” The phrase ‘hitting the wall” in running is best explained by the medical condition of depleting stores of muscle glycogen. The hills of Newton are not much to measure in terms of elevation over sea level. That said, the hill is flat-out - a freaking killer - for runners.
I don't know all that much about running since I am not a Marathon Man. I do know that it is serious business because I live on the block off Commonwealth Avenue where the American Red Cross pitches its tent. The runners’ faces tell the story. The pain is etched on those frozen faces as the marathoners often take two hands to their knees in agony at the midway point of Heartbreak Hill.
Crosstown from Newton, the Boston Red Sox play a matinee game on Patriots’ Day and it starts at 11:05am to get a head start on a day of frolicking and spring fever in the Commonwealth of Mass. On this particular Patriots’ Day, at 7:30pm, the Boston Celtics played host to the Chicago Bulls in Game 2 of their first round series in the 2009 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs. Interestingly, the second game of the best-of-seven game series, featuring the defending NBA champion Celtics, has been tabbed as a “Must Win” game since the Celtics fell victim to the upstart Bullies 105-103, in overtime of the series opener.
Now, in all of my years in the NBA, the term “Must Win” was frequently over-utilized. At playoff time, fans and the media people tend to over-dramatize the outcome of one particular game and they often over react to the single-game outcome and the shift in momentum that a single victory provides in a series. I always thought that it had to be an “elimination” game in order for the term “Must Win” to even be considered.
However, today, on this 20th day of April in the year 2009, I am promoting the use of the term “Must Win” in Boston.
I am not using the word for NBA basketball or for Boston Red Sox baseball. I am using it for a man named Richard Whitehead of Nottingham, GBR. Whitehead is a double amputee who ran today’s Boston Marathon along with all of the other elite 26,000+ marathoners. He flexed his way through the devastating 26 miles and 385-yeards (that’s 42.195 kilometers for you metric types). Nottingham’s finest was born July 19, 1976 which made Whitehead 32 years of age as United States Senator and former USA Presidential candidate John Kerry fired the shotgun start to the day’s activities at 9:22am (EDT). His work as a motivational speaker and beacon of inspiration and hope is well documented and can be researched until your heart is content.
I am here to say, that the game of basketball and all of its grandeur could not compete today with the heart and soul of one Richard Whitehead of Nottingham. Whitehead was born without lower legs or knees but he has managed to find the inner strength to smash marathon records for amputees, running the Rome Marathon earlier this spring in 2:56 and thus, crushing the record by eight-plus minutes.
Today, Whitehead accomplished the true “Must Win” when he finished the Boston Marathon in 3:02 to the delight of those he cruised past on the road to Heartbreak Hill like my favorite athlete of all-time, Secretariat, the Triple Crown winner and all-out legend of the 1973 Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York,
In similar fashion, the Boston Celtics broke from the gates tonight to a quality first quarter start. The team, looking a little old last Saturday, was full of energy in front of their hometown holiday crowd on their historic, home parquet floor. On this Saturday past just mentioned, the club found itself reeling from the loss of the injured Kevin Garnett and stinging from the news of a sudden, but thankfully not life-threatening, heart attack suffered by team General Manager Danny Ainge. Worse than that, NBA All-Star Ray Allen shot a pitiful 1-for-12 and laid an 0-for-6 performance from 3-point land to help bury his teammates in the devastation. Only a missed free throw by Paul Pierce, which could’ve won the game for the Celtics, deflected the hounds from devouring the Ray Allen opening playoff series carcass.
Now, as I write, both Ainge and Garnett were in the building when the C’s ran out to a 35-29 first quarter lead. However, the Chicago Bulls stormed back with their youthful second step and 21-for-24 shooting from the free throw line to take a 61-58 lead at the half. The cocky but delightful Joakim Noah is the son of famed French tennis star Yannick Noah and grandson of a famed footballer from the Cameroon. Joakim’s mom, the former Cecilia Rodhe, was Miss Sweden in 1978. Noah, without KG to contend with, has been ruling the paint for the Bulls.
But, when Kedrick Perkins placed the Celtics ahead, 97-95, at the 7:11 mark of the fourth quarter, he had grabbed his sixth offensive rebound and put the home team in charge just as Boston's Ray Allen drained his first big 3-pointer of the night, much to Noah's dismay.
Chicago’s Ben Gordon, born in London to parents of Jamaican heritage, followed up in a duel against Allen, his University of Connecticut cohort. Gordon hit a pair of big three’s himself to tally his 36th point of the game before Rajon Rondo scored on the length of the court run to make it a one point game, 109-108, with 1:54 remaining on the Boston Garden clock. The Celtics’ young, All-Star guard launched an ill-advised three-pointer at the 1:01 mark and hit nothing but net to give the Celtics a 112-111 lead as the clock ticked under the minute mark.
The battle of Storrs, CT continued as Ben Gordon and Ray Allen each countered with clutch shots, the elder of the UCONN faithful hitting a huge 3-pointer at the 20.1 second mark to put Boston ahead 115-113 only to watch Gordon tie the game at 115-all with a mid-range jumper with 12.3 ticks left on what our UK friend, Steve Nashie, calls the clickity-clock. But on the day when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts paid tribute to the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Ray Allen won the Battle of Storrs when he drained a long jumper with two seconds left to tie the first round series at 1-1 as the Celtics won the game, 118-115.
It was a “Big Win” for the Celtics, not a “Must Win.” As I noted earlier, a courageous man from Great Britain, not Storrs, accomplished the “Must Win” much earlier in the day. The “Must Win” of the day occurred when Richard Whitehead crossed the finish line at the 114th running of the Boston Marathon.
Terry Lyons, Contributor
A former communications and media executive at the NBA, Terry has behind-the-scenes knowledge that few others could boast. His vast experience, contacts list and knowledge of the game make him a star asset to 24/7's writing team.
For more information on Richard Whitehead of Nottingham, please visit: http://sprintuk.blogspot.com/2009/03/richard-whitehead-sets-new-standard-in.html
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Terry Lyons: http://www.terrylyons.com
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