I hereby absolve the Celtics for what many might consider a disappointing run. I touch them with the feather of forgiveness. I wash them in a river of forgiveness. I wrap them in the fabric of forgiveness. I put them in a light that will hurt their eyes.
Let’s state the obvious. This team had little left in them. The Magic stand a much better chance of winning a game or two against Cleveland than the Celtics would have. We should be excited. Dwight Howard and co. could make the East exciting for years to come. This might provide the experience they need to take it to the next level as a team (that and, um, the Magic really need to hire a real coach). The Celtics against the Cavs would have been more of a marquis matchup (almost explicitly because of the Celtics’ status as defending champs). But it also would have been on par with Creed vs. Drago when it came down to it. Was that too Simmonsish? Sorry.
A few points on the Celtics season, and then onto the remaining NBA playoffs …
-The absence of Powe and Garnett hurt this team. It didn’t condemn them, necessarily, but the Celtics didn’t change their gameplan enough to make it work. But let’s acknowledge the following. 1) Rajon Rondo was our second leading rebounder in the post season (averaging 10 a game, by the way). 2) Either Davis or Scalabrine or BOTH of them were on the floor for the majority of every game (may help explain the first point). I will grant you that Big Baby had a sort of coming-of-age post-season. He may very well turn out to be the mediocre power forward we all think he can be. Scalabrine is flat out awful. I swear he fills a quota for the Celtics organization that mandates at least 25% of all employees have to look like they’re from Southie. The only thing he brings to this team is that he reminds me of John C. O’Reilly which makes me think of Brule’s Rules and then I have a hearty chuckle. Oh, what’s that? But he hits all those 3’s? Yes, he hits a few, but only because any smart team will gladly double team Pierce, Allen, or Rondo and leave Scalabrine wide open outside. Over the course of the game, he costs you.
-Rivers should have given Moore some time on the court. He gets into foul trouble, but I think he also integrates in the offense better. He seems to hover in the 10-ft range that ends up getting left unattended unless someone from the outside drives and pulls up. I like that guy. I know this completely discredits me, but … I’d rather have lost with him on the floor than Scalabrine.
-Watching Pierce run the floor was painful. He was dead. I almost feel like Rivers should have taken him out more, except that would only ensure that he (Rivers) was crucified by the Boston media and fans alike. I’ve also never seen him front-rim so many jumpshots. After the Celtics tied the series on Davis’ game-winner in Game 4 (which, to be fair, was actually a great play by Pierce to draw the defense and find the open man), Pierce struggled. He had that one tear in Game 6 where he put away 7 points in the span of 1:08 (which really wasn’t that impressive … he just didn’t pass the ball and actually hit the 3 shots he took … which should tell you something about the bar he set for himself this year vs. last year).
-I think it worked out last year because Allen, Pierce, and Garnett all carried the load at one time or another. I felt like both Allen and Pierce this year, especially towards the end of the Magic series, were not hungry for the ball. They were waiting for someone else to stand up and take over. This team worked well when teams had to worry about them and couldn’t leave them alone. But the Magic were able to wear Rondo out, dominate the inside, and not have to worry about Pierce or Allen as much.
-I have to disagree with my blogmate here. Rondo is the real deal. I love this kid, and I wish he’d stepped up and claimed this team as his. It’s going to have to happen. Pierce and Allen are going to become those old guys that were good at one point, but now can only contribute if there’s a young guy on the court who draws the defense’s attention away. I think we started to see that already. Rondo can hit from the outside, drive the lane, rebound, pass, and play defense. Not saying he’s the top of the league at any of these, but he can do them all. He has great instincts, loves to roller skate, and I think if he can get himself to be able to play 40ish minutes a game at full-speed, he’ll be dangerous. (A big “if” I know, but I think he can do it. Also, the rest of the league had better pray they don’t make Heely’s legal in the NBA.)
-I am not 100% sold on Perkins just yet. He shows signs of becoming a pretty good inside man, and at times he held his own against Howard. He seems to get into foul trouble a lot (which isn’t a bad strategy against Howard, really), but he also maintains pretty good position.
-I am 100% sold on Perkins’ nickname being “The Pharaoh” … he could call the lane his Tomb or something. And yell out “Cursed!” whenever he swats someone’s shot. I might be treading into racist waters here, but I swear it’s only because of his goatee.
-Pierce’s place in Celtics lore is already pretty high. I’m not sure I put him in my starting 5, but … he might also be the single most talented player this team has ever had. One of the things that I’ve always loved about the Celtics (at least through my childhood, which ended when Bird retired) was that they were a team. Bird had some greats on his team. But how much better were those guys for having played with Bird? Pierce wasn’t that type of guy. He didn’t make too many guys better than they were going to be otherwise. You had to learn to play off of Pierce’s game, or there’d be no room for you (the obvious exception, of course, was last year … but Pierce knew his clock was ticking and so of course he wasn’t going to object). It’s hard to argue against Russell. 13 seasons, 11 rings. He’d need to have a finger surgically attached to wear his rings at once. Bird embodies everything people want the Celtics to be. Hard-nosed, not pretty, but gutsy, gritty, determined to win. I’m not going to say white, because I really don’t think most people care, but yes … there are probably some people who love that he was a white farmboy as well.
(For what it’s worth, my favorite Celtic of all-time? Dennis Johnson. Not an HOFer, but his number hangs from the rafters. Larry Bird, who was pretty sparse with his compliments if you weren’t Magic Johnson, said DJ was the best he’d ever played with. This guy just flat out knew the game. Not a dominant player. But smart enough to realize no dominant player was going to win without someone like him. Bird can make the greatest play ever and steal the inbounds pass, but who is it that instinctively cuts to the net while everyone else on the floor is still watching? DJ. He knew Bird was going to steal that pass before Bird did. Also, he hits a pretty impressive layup there. I love the image of Bird grabbing DJ after that play as they go to the bench. It’s as though Bird knew his steal was a good play, but DJ’s was a great play. The greatest play I’ve ever seen, anyway. If you haven’t watched the clip of this recently, it’s priceless. The Bill Walton before-and-after shots cannot be duplicated. I think I’m going to go cry in the men’s room, now.)
Moving on from the Celtics … I like the Magic matching up with the Cavs. Let me clarify, there is a very, very, very, very slim chance this goes to 7 games. I would say most likely 5, followed by a Cavs sweep, followed by the Magic winning 2 at home and losing in 6. But I think these games will be reasonably close and worth watching, with a blowout (maybe two) sprinkled in. But it’s important that Howard, Lee, Lewis and Alston get this taste, this experience. This team with Jameer Nelson could be awesome, and back here again next year (add to the mix a Bulls team I expect great things from next year, and a Hawks team that maybe(?) gets to the next level? That’s an exciting East in my book.)
In the West, it’s tought to pick against the Lakers, but … I love the Nuggets. I’d love to see them upset LA, and I think of the two Conference Finals matchups, it’s the more likely. Denver has to be amongst Bryant’s least favorite places to be/play.
I know the only thing left to watch for is a Kobe/LeBron matchup. And truthfully, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. But I just can’t bring myself to outright root for the Lakers. I really hate Pau Gasol in a way I haven’t hated anyone since the Motor City Bad Boys (by the way … how’s that for a team nickname? Their warmup tear-aways should have been made of leather). But I also think this will be the best matchup. Maybe even a 7-gamer.
I think I spoke to Keith or Hernandez about this at the bachelor party which spawned my inclusion on this blog (by the way, thank you both for your kind words … it’s nothing short of an honor to be writing alongside the two of you). What makes it more likely that LeBron bolts for NY? Winning or not winning?
You will notice I did not extend my forgiveness to the Bruins. I love them, but that stung. Congratulations to the ‘Canes. I will admit, I thought a Bruins win was a foregone conclusion. I was wrong. Impressive to win on the road in Game 7, and to stop the momentum the Bruins had built. I suppose it’s not the worst thing in the world for Detroit and Pittsburgh to play each other again. It’d also be awesome to see the Blackhawks hoist the cup and get Chicago back into the hockey mix. It kind of sucks, but I have no particular love or hate for any of the remaining teams. So, I just hope everyone has fun and nobody gets hurt.
I will end with a non-sports related note. I caught an episode of Party Down on a JetBlue flight to Seattle last week. Pretty fucking awesome. I come to find out my sister works for a firm that does PR for the show. She says not all epsisodes are funny, but that when it’s on, it’s on. I think (I could very well be mistaken) that Paul Rudd is a producer? All I know is, the episode I saw featured Ed Begley, Jr. and some titties. Cha-ching!