Wednesday, December 19, 2007

20-2, but 0-1

A mid-December NBA game does not usually remind a viewer of a playoff atmosphere but that was not the case tonight in Boston as the new-look Celtics put their best-ever(*) 20-2 start on the line against the Detroit Pistons. After an exciting, back-and-forth fourth quarter, the Celtics dug back from a 6-point deficit with 1:19 left (and with Pistons having the ball), only to lose with poor clock management in the last 30 seconds.

A few things we learned:

* Ray Allen still has plenty in the tank, especially after having a couple of games off to rest his legs. His turn-the-corner-and-dunk-in-traffic off a timeout with 6 minutes left turned the game around when the Cs were in danger of losing touch (down 7). And his pair of three-pointers (one from the corner off the dribble, the other from the top of the key with 18 seconds left, led the comeback.

Update: Here's the video, now up on YouTube:

* The Cs have no defensive answer for Chauncy Billups (28 pts, 8 assists in 37 minutes), especially in the fourth quarter, when he took Rajon Rondo down to the proverbial "Men's Room" on the low block. Doc Rivers tried Eddie House and Tony Allen in crunch time, but neither proved to be enough. Allen ended up effectively ending the game when he left his feet on a Billups shot-fake on the last possession, sending Billups to the line with 0.1 seconds left.

* The Pistons were able to dictate game tempo, especially in second half. The Celtics have been able to separate themselves from (mostly inferior) opponents over the first quarter of the season with a transition game based on good defense. The defense was there against the Pistons -- Detroit shot just 40.3% -- but the C's were unable to turn missed shots into easy baskets.

* Don't book the Cs for the NBA Finals quite yet. The Cs have fattened up on an easy schedule: most of their games have been against the weak East, and have only played a few games against weak West teams (Sac, Den, LAL). Boston is now 1-3 against elite East teams (0-1 against Orlando and Detroit; 1-1 against Cleveland), and has yet to travel west of Chicago. The next stretch of the season,, with a trip to the Pacific upcoming next week -- and the Celtics trip to the "Texas triangle" in March -- should be very interesting.

* All that being said, the Cs are clearly a challenge for the Pistons, and Boston fans are ready for this rejuvinated franchise. The road to the East will probably go through Detroit, and a Pistons/Celtics series could be very interesting.

(*) - Actually, equalling the best-ever start of 20-2 in 1963-4. Both teams lost their 23rd game, to go 20-3.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Welcome to the NFL, Kid

After a spring and summer where he mostly stayed above the fray of his wife's presidential campaign, President Bill Clinton injected himself into primary politics when he criticized Barack Obama's experience Friday night on the Charlie Rose PBS-TV show, saying that the country should not 'roll the dice' on an individual who had just "one year" of experience in national politics at the time he began running for President.

Nevermind the fact that then-Governor Clinton had zero years of experience in national politics at the time he began running for President in 1991; Clinton attempted to draw a distinction between his 'vision' of the role of the United States in the post-Cold War era:

We are now into unchartered waters, with a former two-term Democratic President taking sides in the primary, and the current front-runner (by all polling) trying to deflect criticism, while not directly criticizing a potent Democratic symbol. Obama has proved himself a very effective counter-puncher against Hillary directly:

However, he is now sparring with the political equivalent of (an early 1970s) George Foreman, and the next days will determine whether he can continue to counter-punch effectively:

Friday, December 14, 2007

Hillary and the Expectations Game

Could not agree more with Seth Gitell's recent post about the 'Hillary-in-free-fall' stories that are now rampant in the press. For instance, Howard Fineman's piece earlier in the week (clearly written pre-debate, although the dynamics did not change yesterday) is featured prominently on Drudge this afternoon. Billy Shaheen's comments over the past few days resulted in his resignation from the NH campaign yesterday, giving rise to a series of stories about a 'campaign-in-disarray'. And the New York Times' Adam Nagourney earlier in the week wrote a story emphasizing how the Clintons have never really campaigned in Iowa (the 1992 caucuses were ceded to favorite son Tom Harkin) and that there was tension between the President's advisors and the campaign's staff.

The reality is that as a former First Lady, with extremely high name-recognition, and a national front runner for months on end, expectations should be -- fairly -- for convincing wins everywhere. Moreover, the 'inevitability' argument that the Clinton campaign has been touting for months should be making a loss anywhere -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, or South Carolina -- a mortal wound.

(Just as a point of comparision -- and yes, it was a different era and before the Iowa caucuses took on their current importance -- but, LBJ 'lost' the New Hampshire primary in 1968, even though he received a majority (49%) of the votes, to Gene McCarthy's 42%.)

Yes, Hillary has had a bad month. Yes, Obama has proved to be an effective counter-puncher. And yes, there's still a lot of time left (although less time than the calendar would indicate, when one takes into account the days lost to Christmas and the holiday week.)

But right now, a win in Iowa for Hillary would effectively end the race. And even a convincing win by Obama there may not end the talk of a Clinton 'firewall' in New Hampshire, Nevada, or
South Carolina. Moreover, with the Democratic delegates reflecting proportional representation (see, e.g., 2004 NH Democratic results) -- rather than the closer-to-winner-take-all primaries on the GOP side (see 2000 Michigan results) -- meaning that a wounded Clinton campaign could continue on past Super Tuesday and into the Spring.

The Clinton campaign has one other advantage: a base level of support that is the flip side to her high negative ratings. While some voters will not vote for her under any circumstances, others -- and especially women -- want to vote in favor of the first truly viable woman candidate. It should surprise no one that Clinton's new ad is focused on three generation of "Rodham" women, all of who think Hillary should be president.

New Op-Ed in Mass High Tech

A new op-ed in this week's Mass High Tech, co-written with HPVPC partner (and fellow-blogger) Terry Klein.


The late Will McDonough, former Globe reporter and columnist, had a long memory, and a sharp wit. For years he referred to Roger Clemens, as the "Texas Con Man." Wonder what Ol' Will would say about the news yesterday in the Mitchell Report that Clemens was apparently a steroid user, beginning shortly after he left Boston?

For that matter, wonder what Dan Duquette is feeling this morning? He famously declared that Clemens was in the "twilight of his career" in Clemens left for Toronto in 1996.

For the record, here are Clemens' key stats from the period 1995-1998:

1995 (Age 32): 10-5 W-L, 4.18 ERA, 140 IP, 132 K

1996 (Age 33): 10-13, 3.63 ERA, 242.2 IP, 257 K

1997 (Age 34): 21-7, 2.05 ERA, 264 IP, 292 K

1998 (Age 35): 20-6, 2.65 ERA, 234.2 IP, 271 K

Gitell on Klein

Quick shout-out to Seth Gitell, who attend the HPVPC event yesterday (before the snow) at the Downtown Harvard Club featuring Joe Klein. Seth's summary is here.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Final Topsy-Turvy Ending

Winston Churchill famously noted that democracy was the worst form of government, except for all others that have been tried from time-to-time.

The BCS may put that dictum to rest. After a topsy-turvy regular season, the bowl pairings were announced this afternoon, with the headliner -- Ohio State playing LSU in the Sugar Bowl -- surprising no one but leaving fans (except for those of OSU, and of LSU) feeling less than excited. (The Tigers have already been installed as 5-point favorites, and OSU apparently has never beaten an SEC team in a bowl game; last year, OSU was embarrassed by a more athletic Florida, 41-14.)

Ohio State's greatest attribute was its schedule: their out-of-conference schedule was lighter than a bowl of Cool Whip, including Youngstown State, Kent State, Washington, and Akron. The Buckeyes also benefited from the Big Ten -- the conference itself is not particularly strong, and without a conference championship game, the Buckeyes did not have to risk a season-ending loss after Thanksgiving.

(LSU's schedule includes the SEC and the SEC Championship Game -- no complaints about 'strength-of-schedule' at all.)

Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer should learn something from OSU's Jim Tressel. Had the Hokies substitutued a "manageable" MAC or Sun Belt team for LSU (on Saturday night in Baton Rouge, no less) on Week #2, they may have had the opportunity (even with a home loss to BC) to play for the BCS title. Contrast Tech's schedule with that of ACC rival Boston College (who lost to Tech in the ACC title game): BC played Army, UMass (I-AA), Bowling Green, and Notre Dame out of conference.

What also is lost are the bowl matchups that might have been. Under the old system, OSU would have played a white-hot USC in the Rose Bowl, and the winner of that game would have had a legitimate claim for a mythical (pre-BCS) national championship. Another erstwhile matchup might have been VA Tech/OU in the Orange Bowl, and West Virginia/Georgia in a Fiesta Bowl.