By Jake Appleman

I have never understood why people fight over religion. I think a man or woman’s right to believe whatever they want is one of the greatest freedoms we can be afforded as human beings. Regardless of specific creed, every single person has their own unique relationship to that which is spiritual, and that should be respected.

My own personal relationship to spirituality has often been dictated by context. I’ve always felt more connected to my own spirituality when I’ve had to deal with death or other dire situations. This would only seem natural. Often, strong emotions when grieving lead to deep reflection.

As such, when I began thinking about the potential death of the Tommy Point recently, I got a little choked up. After the Celtics-Nets game ten days ago, I wrote:

The Celtics are playing so well right now, they’ve almost rendered Tommy Points meaningless. In other words, with the exception of the close win in Toronto, the difference hustle has made in the outcome of their games has been negligible.

At halftime of the Heat-Celtics game on Friday night, the Celtics were up 6. They weren’t playing particularly well, and the Heat, Wade in tow, were giving everything they had. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Celtics were going to pick it up in the third quarter and run away with another contest that wasn’t decided by extra effort. My mini-obsession with this theory was bursting through my basketball-obsessed veins. Could the importance of the Tommy Point be helplessly stuck in a blowouts-induced coma?

I knew I had to get at Tommy Heinsohn. I needed challenge the establishment and hear it from the horse’s mouth. This was going to be difficult, and the following analogy should help clarify.

How do you walk up to the Pope and try and persuade him that empirical evidence suggests that, for the time being, the commitment (hustle) with which you worship his God (in this case, also hustle) has no bearing on whether or not you’ll get into heaven (a 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and a lucky charms sprinkled road to the NBA finals)?

This is especially difficult when all the Pope, ambling through the press room that he essentially owns, wants to do is eat a bag of Miss Vicky’s sea salt and vinegar potato chips, and your sleep-deprived, incoherent ass is the only thing standing between him and that salty goodness.

Finally, after some Chris Berman-esque bumbling and stumbling, the point is made. Tommy, have the Celtics been so good that they’ve taken the meaning out of Tommy Points?

The Pope isn’t having it.

“No,” he says with the requisite coldness.

I return for the third quarter, ego shattered from being shot down, essentially an atheist rejected by the church. The Celtics build their lead in the third quarter, making it seem like my theory is still on point.

And then it happens. The Celtics go without a field for 6+ minutes in the fourth quarter and they scratch and claw out a hard fought win. Who could have predicted this? They win the game because James Posey plays solid defense on D-Wade on the final possession; they win the game because Rajon Rondo, the smallest guy on the court, circumvents Udonis Haslem by jumping around him and grabbing an offensive board before sticking in the put-back; they win the game because KG, despite looking deadly from mid-range, looked for his teammates instead of getting overly shot-happy; they win the game because Paul Pierce takes that extra step to get to the hoop, albeit one that the refs apparently don’t see; they win the game because they grind it out and find that extra gear.

Orlando went out two nights later and beat Boston, fully lifting Tommy Points and all of their worldly importance out of that metaphorical coma.

I should have known that Tommy Heinsohn was closer to the Hustle Gods (Terrence Howard, Charles Oakley, Eazy-E) than I was. Indeed, the situation became dire and they showed me why you should never lose the faith. Long live a competitive Eastern Conference, and long live the importance of Tommy Points.

You cannot fully succeed if you do not work hard. And you cannot win a championship unless you start flinging yourself into the scorer’s table.