*This was intended to be takeaways from game 1 of Heat-Celtics and thoughts on game 2 of Spurs-Thunder if time permitted. Well, not only did time not permit, but KG got me off on a personal tangent. Shame, as there were some great things to say. Perhaps on my next flight from Denver to San Diego. By the way, the WiFi at Denver International could only be considered shoddy at best. Barely have enough of a connection to load in the words and get this posted, let alone graphics. Yeesh.
- It was very surprising to see Boston switching LeBron James pick and rolls from the get-go, and it was even more so that it worked to such great effect. Multiple times in the first half the Celtics had Kevin Garnett or Brandon Bass take James after a screen from a Miami big, and multiple times did LeBron size them up with the dribble before settling for long jumpers. As someone with no rooting interest in the game, it was fascinating to watch from the vantage point of each team: what did Doc Rivers and company see on film that made them think going this unorthodox route would be successful? and why was LeBron so passive in attacking Garnett or Bass with forays to the rim? Of course, James adjusted in the second half and started doing just that, most notably against KG twice in the fourth quarter from the top of the circle. This type of adjustment or “game within the game” is something domestic to Boston – especially defensively – and watching how they defend LeBron PnRs differently in game 2 will not only be a great study for basketball minds, but also instrumental in determining the game’s outcome.
- Growing up with no hometown NBA organization in Kansas City, I developed favorite players as opposed to teams. While some consider this blasphemy in the world of player-movement oriented professional sports, I certainly thought at the time and still believe such was preferable to arbitrarily choosing a NBA squad to root for in a place like Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, or Milwaukee, places of which I had no connection to. So I liked individual players, and it all began with Garnett as a teenager in ‘Sota, seven year-old me drawn to his incredible combination of length, athleticism, and skill like a moth to a flame. And as I got older and started to actually understand and appreciate the intricacies and nuances of basketball, I loved Garnett even more. So of course as we witness the twilight of his amazing but should-be-more historically significant career, I revel in throwback performances like those of last night’s, games 1 and 3 against Philly, game 6 against Atlanta, and his uptick in scoring and rebounding overall since the postseason began. I’ve learned more about the game – how it could be played on both ends of the floor in terms of actual play and on-court attitude if everyone truly looked out for the team’s best interest – from watching KG than any coach or teammate that I ever had. And they’ll all tell you that as an unskilled, short-ish, too pudgy high school post player I got the most of my ability by knowing everyone’s defensive rotation/covering up my teammate’s mistakes, incessantly talking (sometimes with no rhyme or reason), making the smart, extra, or skilled pass, and giving absolutely all I could give while on the floor. Not unlike Garnett, except when you consider his still overwhelming physical talent as a seven-footer and his breadth of shot-making ability, of course. What I’m saying, basically, is that I’m thrilled we’re appreciating KG as a dominant player again like we did for so many years of early 2000s yore. Because even if he hasn’t played to this or his former standard his three last injury-ravaged seasons, Garnett’s still been one of the league’s most influential players in terms of wins/losses as a defensive and lockerroom leader for the Celtics. And plus, he’s still teaching me.
- Speaking of not having a favorite team and rooting for individuals, this series is extra fun for me not just because of Garnett, but guys I came to love over the years on both teams. As a going-through-puberty middle-schooler I was Witness to the rise of LeBron as he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and played against Oak Hill and Carmelo Anthony on ESPN, and still remember Dwyane Wade teaming with Travis Diener to lead Marquette to the Final Four in 2003 before they lost to my beloved Jayhawks. I’m not sucked in by such incredible acrobatics, shot-making, and overall physical dominance now, of course, but as a 13 year-old I couldn’t help but being just that. And as Wade led Miami to the 2006 title and LeBron toiled away with Larry Hughes and Antawn Jamison in Cleveland, I rooted still. Being “fans” of those guys sounds bad now, yes, but I was there at the genesis for both of them as I was at a kind of genesis of adolescence; I can’t look past thinking that’s important, no matter the public’s perception of they and their Heat teammates. I mentioned Jayhawks earlier, so it should be no surprise that as a life-long KU fan and recent student that I wish success and pay special attention to both Mario Chalmers and Paul Pierce. I remember begging Bill Self to start the turnover-prone but obviously talented Chalmers in his freshman year of 2006, realizing he might be KU’s best two-way guard of my fandom in 2007, and of course his Miracle – a moment/night I still consider unmatched – on April 7, 2008. Pierce was my college Garnett, my love of hoops beginning and growing with his years in Lawrence in the mid-90s and as a young Celtic around the turn of the decade. I threw a toy brick twenty yards through a glass window of our family’s old house when 34-1 Kansas lost to Arizona in 1997, I constantly bitched throughout the following year when his rookie season was overshadowed by Air Canada, I watched he and Antoine Walker lead a band of misfits to heights Boston hadn’t seem since Bird a few years later, and in 2008 I felt like I was betraying KG when I was glad he was awarded Finals MVP. And last but not least, I’m most recently a fan of Udonis Haslem after listening to a January NBA Today podcast featuring David Thorpe focusing on “royal jelly” and the Heat’s use of it with U.D. So, if the endless amount of storylines gleaned from Heat-Celtics is awesome for you, just imagine how I feel.