I miss the regular season. I understand I’m one of only a few, on account of these games “mattering” and what not. But it’s the journey I like, not the ending.
And the Celtics and Lakers have crapped all over that journey.
I mean, really, these were two very average teams throughout the course of the last half of the season. And when the Celtics struggled and said they were just bored, how could you believe them? They looked unbelievably mortal. It’s not that I thought they were dead in the water. But I thought they’d have to realize you can’t just breeze your way through life, you have to step up and work hard if you want to win a championship.
And it’s true. You just only have to do it for about six weeks of the year.
Is it possible to undervalue the job the Celtics have done on defense? Because I still feel like that’s what people are doing. Pointing out the Magic’s effort as some sort of epic failure is a little deceptive. A great example was when late in the second with the Celtics up 15, the Celtics forced four perimeter passes, resulting a cross-court heave to Pietrus that would have been wide open last year, only to find Pierce sprinting full force and lunging in the air to run off the three. It’s that kind of effort that has to be given to knock the Magic offense off course. And the Celtics gave it, and have been giving it since the playoffs began.
And just as impressive as Boston’s defense is LA’s offense. Somehow, this is being translated into “the Suns still suck at defense.” Which is akin to saying “Damn, that tugboat was weakass. Look at it! It didn’t even stop that Navy Destroyer from plowing through it! God, same ol’ tugboat. Pansies.”
The Lakers had the following points per possession on play types last night: Isolation 28 plays for 1.21 per play, P&R Ball Handler 7 plays for 1.43(!!!) per play, Post-up 13 plays for 1.31 per play, Spot-up 17 plays for 1.29 per play, Cut 11 plays for 1.18 per play, Offensive Rebound 7 actual shots off rebound for 1.43 (!!!) per play. And another 10 transition plays for 1.3 per play. They scored 71% of the time they ran pick and roll with a play for the ball handler and 71% of the time the shot off an offensive rebound. I understand that a better defense would have held them to lower numbers. The Suns did not play good defense. But those number… they’re ridiculous. If you’re not a numbers person, please recognize that if you hit 1.00 ppp you’re doing pretty well. This was like getting bombed by a fleet and you’ve got an umbrella. Sure, if you had yourself a metal containment unit it might take more time for you to die, but you’re still getting bombed by a fleet.
Want a comparison for the Celtics’ work on defense? How about the Magic’s 1.13 in Isolation being their bright spot outside of their offensive rebounding numbers (which you’d expect with Dwight). .67 PPP on P’n’R Ball Handler. .5 on the cut. The Magic were able to get 6 plays run for a shot off the cut. Two of them lead to turnovers and they only scored on 2 of the other possessions. That decimates your offense. Spot up? 12 plays for a 1.0. So your wide open shot attempts you work for only netted you a 38.5% scoring percentage. Again, those are Herculean numbers. Those are the team wide numbers equivalent of LeBron dropping 49-10-9.
The Magic are still in this thing, the comeback showed that. They’ve got to, you know, do the things that won them the series last year (creating extra rotations, spreading the floor, forcing the issue, not sucking), but they’ve got a shot at it. Phoenix? Yes, there was a part of me that held out hope yesterday afternoon. That maybe the size and talent and experience and ability and karmic, for whatever reason, tidal wave the Lakers have on their side wouldn’t bum rush the Suns. It’s only one game. Sure they can come back and win Game 2. But last night was a statement. The Lakers had their moment of weakness, and like I argued it would, it came in the first round. Once the Lakers wake up and realize they only have to try for just a little bit more, they’ll do it.
You realize this is what we all expected two years ago. The Celtics made the move for KG and Ray, and we expected them to contend for a few years. The injuries made us question, along with their piss poor regular season performance. But it’s still them. Same guys behind the mask. And LA made that trade for Pau. We all knew it would come to this. Lakers and Celtics. And the rest of the season is just a bunch of minor details no one will remember.
Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.