The Top of the World!

June 18, 2008

“This is a dream come true, and I’m going to cherish this forever.”–Captain Clutch.

Beautiful.

That’s the first word that comes to mind in summing up both the Boston Celtics’ game 6 NBA Championship clincher and the season as a whole.  Boston refused to believe the alpha dog theory that has hung in the air like His Airness since MJ established himself as unbeatable.  The best team won last night.  The best player lost.

Crisp passing, dependable defensive rotations, unselfish decisionmaking, accountability: the 2008 Boston bunch personified the definition of Celtic Basketball.

While the Celtics handed in a quintessential performance, Kobe and Krew submitted a virtuoso white flag waving no show.  After a hot start from profundity, Kobe cooled off, and his Laker teammates gave him no reason to believe passing them the ball would result in anything but missed opportunities.  Instead, aided by dominant Boston defense, Kobe missed shots.  The most prolific active scorer in the entire Association ended his season with 22 points on 22 shots, and averaged 25.7 points per game on .405 shooting for the series–by far his worst numbers of the postseason, and this after owning the superior Western Conference.

Meanwhile, Kobe’s counterparts, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, perfectly played their pivotal roles.  Each scored plenty, and in his own unique way.  Pierce from the line, in the paint, and when the moment called for it, from deep; Allen on fantastic finishes at the rim and raining jumpers that seemed to fall from the heavens.  A point somewhat lost during all the proclamations of “sacrificing” personal stats is this relationship.  Allen and Pierce used to play the same position, and put up similar numbers, but their differences allowed the Celtics a chance at resurgence.

Pierce is a physical beast, country strong.  He maneuvers by defenders almost at will, always awkwardly and at his pace.  He can rebound and score from the post.  And he’s a bit of a wild child, who has matured just in the nick of time.

The man known as Jesus has borderline OCD.  Literally.  He’s meticulous to a fault; but that fault leads to the purest stroke the world of basketball may have ever seen.  He can run the point in a pinch, and prefers the perimeter.

The combination of these two, along with the ever-aquiescent offensive game of The Big Ticket, formed the foundation of an 82-win squad.  Pierce seamlessly slid down the from the shooting guard slot to small forward, and he and Allen responded to Garnett’s dogged defensive determination.

Add a dose of Big Game James Posey and sharpshooting Eddie House, a Cousy wannabe at the point, a physical warrior at the pivot, some scrappy bench players who scoff at adversity, a bit of Ubuntu from Doc Rivers, and Tom Thibodeau’s defensive brilliance, and it would be, in theory, perfect. 

As the rout of a formidable opponent from the NBA’s dominant conference displayed in game 6, it was.

Turn a group of misfits that netted just 24 wins a year ago into an all-time great team capable of raising banner 17?

As KG shouted at the top of his lungs, having just informed legend Bill Russell he wouldn’t be taking up the eleven-time champion’s offer of a championship ring as a gift, “Anything’s possible!”

Light one up from heaven, Red.

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From Euphoria to Phew

June 9, 2008

There might be fewer than five games left in the season for the Lakers after this man (apparently/hopefully) has learned to harness his team’s tremendous potential.

For the first three quarters of game 2 on Sunday night, basketball perfection had been acheived. The commitment to team defense, fearsome rebounding, crisp ball movement, and intelligent play that the Celtics exhibited throughout the first three quarters of the season, had returned to the Garden. Thoughts of winning it all well before game 6 or 7 in Boston sometime next week had crept into the minds of fans and players alike–and then the Lakers, themselves a snoozing giant, delivered the best team in the NBA a wake-up call.

Better yet, a slap to the face.

The Lakers put up an incredible 41 fourth-quarter points on the league’s best defense. And Kobe Bryant, who can’t even comprehend the meaning of the word “no,” led the way. The petulant posterboy displayed everything he brings to the table. Streaky shooting, a dominant personality (as seen in showing up teammates and referees–although the officials deserved it), and an impact on the game felt even when up 22 points with 12 measly minutes remaining.

But before we get to the awakening of KB24 and what it means for the (hopefully) now wide-awake Parquet Posse, let’s address the initial 3600 seconds of game 2.

Doc Rivers was nearly spotless. He’s learned how to coach a team with no legitimate weakness, to the point where watching his substitutions and timeouts no longer leads to potential aneurysms. Sam Cassell needs not step on the court, as a perfectly acceptable replacement for the alien warrior waits not sitting on the bench but leading the reserve Celtics a la Cedric Maxwell: Eddie House, the very man Cassell has replaced in the rotation. Otherwise, Doc outcoached Phil Jackson. Think about that.

Leon Powe played meaningful minutes. And dominated. The national media demonstrated its disbelief via the words of Mike Breen, ABC announcer, who called The Show’s performance the game of his life. Not so.

Leon is a talented, but undersized power forward. Given a couple more inches he would have found himself selected in the lottery two years ago. Instead, fortune fell upon the Celtics, who managed to acquire the rebounding, scoring, and charge-taking inspiration for meager portions.

Paul Pierce carried the offense in the first half and late when necessary. Kevin Garnett made up for a slow shooting start by picking up the slack that a less-than-stellar night from Kendrick Perkins on the boards required. Ray Allen gave Kobe fits early on and fired away from deep, demonstrating his deft touch from the corner three. Put simply, the Boston Three Party did what it should do.

Rajon Rondo lived up to expectations. Lofty expectations, the kind the Green Giant, Tommy Heinsohn, placed upon him as a rookie. Maybe Rajon hasn’t reached Cousy comparisons just yet, but an 8:1 assist to turnover ratio ain’t bad. Add 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block to his 16 assists and 4 points and you’ve got yourself the true point guard this year’s version of Gang Green requires.

P.J. Brown once again stepped up off the bench for Perk, and James Posey continued his solid season of defense, rebounding, and lethal long-range daggers.

In short, the Celtics were 75% perfect.

Now, on to the other 25%.

The Celtics doubtlessly lost their focus after 36 minutes of beautiful Boston basketball. The Lakers, on the other hand, finally decided to show up. L.A. appeared listless for most of the game, with only an efficient first half from Pau Gasol and a late burst from Kobe and friends in the fourth to contradict the rest of their night’s work. The Lake Show looked like a collection of talent, rather than a team, and a collection that hadn’t yet learned to mesh against a squadron willing to take a charge or play chest-to-chest defense.

But, after a phenomenal fourth quarter from the Lakers, each city can take solace in what it saw from the two best teams in basketball.

The Lakers are not done. It’s always nice to know you’re not D.O.A. when heading home for your season’s final three games in front of season ticket holders.

Conversely, remembering that your opponent is worthy never hurts before flying coast to coast for three games at the Staples Center.

So, it’s now up to each team to prove which part of Sunday night’s game was the anomaly. The majority of the game, or the freak final period?

Down two games to none against the best team the NBA has to offer, Phil Jackson better convince his team that the 7 mediocre quarters his squad put forth in Boston were the outliers, otherwise Red Auerbach will remain alone above the man who made Michael MJ.