Tag Archives: Paul Pierce

Hi! How Was Your Summer? Boston Celtics

Photo: Helen Thorn/Flickr

2012-’13 Record: 41-40

New Faces: Brad Stevens (Head coach); Keith Bogans, Marshon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Donte Green and Gerald Wallace

New Places: Doc Rivers (Head coach, Clippers); Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White (Brooklyn); Shavlik Randolph, Terrence Williams, and Kris Joseph (Waived); Fab Melo

Draft: Kelly Olynyk (via Dallas)

Whether or not Danny Ainge will admit it, this summer marks the end of an era for the Celtics. It’s hard to sell a rebuild to any fanbase, especially be the Celtics’, but if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and looks like a duck…it probably is a duck.  So, I understand why Ainge or anyone in Boston is trying to avoid publicly calling it one. But it’s pretty obvious, and you can’t fault them for looking to the future at this point.

Gone are championship team fixtures Pierce and Garnett, and Terry as well. In come Humphries (The face of  the 2013-’14 Celtics for half a season?), Brooks, Bogans, and Wallace’s bloated contract. More evidence of a rebuild: Boston received up to four 1st round picks in the Pierce/Garnett deal from Brooklyn in 2014, 2016 and 2018, with the option to swap picks in 2017.

The Celtics also made a great move toward the future in acquiring Gonzaga big man Kelly Olynyk on draft. Terrific in the half-court, Olynyk works well in the pick ‘n roll, which should make Rajon Rondo happy when he returns. He also shot 70 percent at the rim during his senior season in college which, if that ability translates, should make everyone happy. Paired with Humphries’ ability to rebound (when healthy), the Celtics could potentially have a nice frontcourt pairing by season’s end.

Boston’s offseason has set them up well for the future. Aside from the picks, they will have some cap flexibility down the road. Humphries’ contract comes off of the books after this season; the last two years of Bogans’ deal are unguaranteed, saving them up to $10 million after this season; and with the expiring contract of Brandon Bass and Brooks’ team option after 2015, the Celtics could have an extra $7 million for Rajon Rondo as he will be simultaneously due for a new extension then as well.

It may not be a fun prospect to face being just five years removed from raising a championship banner, but the Celtics will likely be able to return to contention sooner than if they chose not rebuild and decided to make another run for the sixth seed instead. They’ll have Rondo, Avery Bradley, and some other decent pieces, but they will be terrible. Yet, if you’re going to be terrible you may as well do it just in time for the revered 2014 draft. Sometimes rebuilding isn’t so bad.

Hold Them or Fold Them: The Van Halen/Guns n’ Roses Franchise Player Decision Matrix

Amidst the thunder of the playoffs (which, incidentally, sorry, Oklahoma City), there’s another storm brewing for several teams. As far as weather events go, it’s the kind of thing that rain-starved teams like Charlotte, New Orleans or Detroit would kill for, and it goes something like this: How long do you hold on to your franchise player?

I know, right? Fans of small market teams would KILL to have this problem, but it’s a very real one for teams like the Celtics and the Lakers. How do you wind down one era while spooling up for another? Rumblings have been issuing from Boston this week that Paul Pierce expects to either be traded or released, and the resolution of that situation will definitely have a bearing on what happens with Kevin Garnett. The team that was assembled to win a championship and did in 2008 seemed, at the time, to have a short shelf life, but has instead lasted far longer than anyone anticipated.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant and the $30.4 million of cap space room he takes up looms large over the Lakers. While fans and the media sometimes toss around amnesty as an option for Kobe, it doesn’t seem likely when Bryant has been the face of the franchise for over a decade.

But as it is with Pierce, many of the things that argue against moves like trade or amnesty are not strictly basketball decisions, but instead reside in the squishier, more sentimental side of the game. They involve questions of legacy, loyalty, the core cultural values of a team. Neither Pierce nor Bryant has ever played for another team. Pierce was the guy who got stabbed ELEVEN TIMES just a little over a month before the 2001 season and yet went on to be the only Celtic to start all 82 games that year. And as far as Bryant goes, it’s safe to say that are a lot of Laker “fans” out there who can’t name another player on the team.

There are plenty of examples to draw on from the NBA of teams that either quit on their stars too early or hung on to them too long. But that’s not very much fun. As I see it, teams like the Lakers and Celtics essentially have two models to draw on: the Van Halen model or the Guns n’ Roses model.

The Van Halen model says that it’s fine to get rid of the face of the franchise. When Van Halen fired David Lee Roth following the massive success of their album 1984, they’d already been a band for over a decade. Nobody was getting along, everyone was doing a lot of drugs, and Eddie Van Halen wanted to push their music in more complex directions while Roth was content to drop solo tracks like his covers of “California Girls” and “Just A Gigolo” and play the cad. The Van Halen dynasty as represented by their early success had—at least according to Eddie Van Halen—run its course, and rather than soldier through a rocky decline they opted to rebuild with Sammy Hagar.

And it sucked, right? Everyone knows that the original Van Halen is the GOOD Van Halen. Except people didn’t really react that way at the time. Yes, Van Halen with Sammy Hagar was not as much fun, but their next four albums (5150, OU812, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge and Balance) all went to #1 on Billboard—despite having some incredibly dreadful names. That song “Right Now” was EVERYWHERE from Crystal Pepsi to sporting events (where it still haunts the PA). It has to be the most uplifting song to ever come from an album with an expanded-curse-word-as-acronym title.

Sadly, in spite of this success, it seem like few people look on Hagar’s days with the band as the halcyon ones. Music fans are no less attached to ideas of authenticity than are sports fans, and there will always be something about the idea of the ORIGINAL lineup of a band that strikes a chord with us.

And so maybe Kobe and Pierce aren’t—technically—part of the original lineups of their respective teams. But for a generation of fans, those players are part of the emotional origin of those teams for those fans. More than production, more than efficiency, more even than the possibility of future rings, this emotional attachment is why even if these players are soon gone the future looks dimmer for fans.

But it’s not all bread and roses on the other side of the coin. In fact, it’s Guns n’ Roses. After what amounts to back-to-back championship with Use Your Illusion I and II in 1991, Guns n’ Roses were on top of the world. Their gritty, greasy hard rock had evolved into something cinematic and sometimes orchestral while retaining their hard edge and lawless image. It was like nothing could possiblye go wrong.

But instead of going wrong, it just sort of went nowhere. Never the most stable of bands—having gone through a drummer and a rhythm guitarist on the way to the mid-’90s—their lineup grew increasingly hazy over the next decade as the flow of music dwindled to a covers album, a few singles, and then nothing.

In the dystopian future that Guns n’ Roses is now living in, the face of the franchise has well overstayed his welcome. In attempting to fulfill his own vision of a band of which so many young fans felt themselves to be co-owners (which also happens in sports), Axl Rose has employed a guy with a bucket on his head and a guitarist who took his nickname from a bacterial infection. (An especially awesome sidenote: In 2010 this guy released a 15th Anniversary Edition of an album he recorded in his “parents’ basement” with a 200 page book of guitar transcriptions. This guy is absolutely the Sasha Vujacic of G’n’R.)

What Rose and his “band” show is how holding onto something doesn’t keep it from changing, nor does it keep the memories fresh or vivid. It just lets you watch as that thing rots away to nothing. Yes, that’s cold and no, Kobe Bryant—for example—isn’t done for, not even with a devastating Achilles injury to return from. But someday he will be. Do you just hope that day comes conveniently between seasons? Do you hope he knows when that happens? Michael Jordan certainly didn’t. It would be terrific if these ultra-competitive athletes could somehow blow past their own limitations right up until the exact moment when their bodies tell them enough is enough, but that’s sadly not usually how it happens.

It’s one thing for teams facing the prospect of building more or less from scratch, or even recovering from modest success. But it’s another thing entirely to shepherd a franchise from the heights of one or more championships and a roster with an all-time great player to whatever comes next.

The evolution of advanced stats may help teams develop better ways to understand player development and decline, but they can’t tell us anything about how to make this transition when it comes to the cultural, emotional and historical part of the game. How these teams handle these changes sends a message to their fanbase, other teams and the league’s players about who they are as organizations. To cop a line from The Terminator, the Lakers and Celtics are looking into the distance at dark clouds while a young Mexican boy says something in Spanish. Mitch Kupchak leans over and asks the gas station attendant, “What did he just say?” And the attendant says, “He said there’s a storm coming in.”

Danny Ainge sighs.

“I know.”

Never Down And Never Out

It’s the summer of 2011 and the Boston Celtics are at IKEA. Marquis Daniels is futzing with the coffee maker. Greg Stiemsma just set a hard screen on the Parisian floor lamp. Paul Pierce isn’t shaving over by the mirror. Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers look at their spare parts assemblage. “Here,” Ainge says. “I just bought these guys for next year. Put it together, okay? Make sure it doesn’t collapse on Red’s legacy.” These Boston Celtics somehow snuck into the Eastern Conference Finals last year, and nearly the NBA Finals. But this is the franchise’s mythic ethos – it’s not just the ratty championship banners. That, no matter how scattered and disjointed things appeared to be for them, you know they could win. It’s the looming threat of your pending victimization.

These 2012-2013 Boston Celtics are either fiercely loyal or brutally overmatched. Either way they’re lurking, and it’s making everyone uncomfortable. No one wants to face Boston. Even as the No. 7 seed, even without Rajon Rondo, even without Ray Allen. Even though they’ve been scotch-taped and paper-clipped and patched up to hide rusting edges. Every player to leave the team means another layer of crazy glue. Because more than that one championship in 2008 and a bunch of near misses in the ensuing seasons, the Big Three era Boston Celtics are a mentality that any team can be out-basketballed with just the right parts coaching and will and scheme and chest-puffing. It isn’t so much that you can’t count them out so much as you can always count them in. Striking range has no boundary.

As the playoffs roll in, it will be impossible to accommodate any kind of Celtics basketball discussion without at least mentioning Monday’s horrifying events and somewhat veering into a dialogue of sports’ place in the grander scheme of things. They’re somewhere – this, we know, and probably agree upon. But it ends there. There are jersey-wearing people yelling in bars and tattoos and dolts and indifference and other and varying levels of hysteria. Sports mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people and it’s always and definitely impossible to cramp these perspectives under a single banner. But if only to serve as a reprieve from the Marathon explosions, the Boston Celtics can and probably should be a symbol for falling into something bigger and happier. Not that the Larry O’Brien trophy is either doctor or therapist; Paul Pierce squirming towards the paint in slow motion won’t erase the devastation. But there’s something to be said for re-gathering and momentarily walking into distraction.

It’s impossible and unfair for me to speculate on the recovery mechanisms for Bostonians; I’m a New Yorker and only absorbed the horror through news-breaking tweets and solemn television broadcasters and graphic photos on the internet. But I’ll dare to say that most of us will heal, and probably quicker than we’d like to think. When the Celtics play the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, moments of silence won’t stop Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony from beefing and spewing pointed and not safe for work words. Someone’s going to foul someone else a bit too hard. Gesturing won’t be sympathetic. And this is a good thing. Any tempered or cautious tip-toeing around the basketball will only cheapen however you might choose to purpose it. Playoff basketball is only playoff basketball if it’s playoff basketball.

Still, when it comes to the Celtics, we’re left with scattered basketball pieces grafted onto two minutes-limited veterans. The Boston Celtics, as a whole, are not that good at basketball, or at least as good as they once were. And so despite their impending status as an escapist or redemptive beacon, this team is exactly that already. A first round series victory over New York will be nothing short of miraculous. A spot in the conference finals will pretty much send the entire internet into a riotous frenzy of told-you-so’s and crying LeBron James GIFs. Someone might as well light a match to Twitter should they win the NBA title. Yet no matter how longshot the Celtics appear to be, they’re never that. They’re a shot. A maybe. They’re the but (though, this season, sometimes butt) of every playoff conversation.

Statistical Anomaly: Cavaliers @ Celtics

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian the Celtics containing Kyrie Irving but still losing a home game to the Cavaliers.

Jeff Green has stepped into the primary scorer some nights for the Celtics, but I am more impressed with 26 year olds ability to fill it up in an efficient manner. He scored a team high 23 points against Cleveland, the sixth time he has tallied at least that many points. The power forward is shooting 66.3% from the field in those games while averaging nearly three made triples. In fact, this was the first such game in which Green failed to make multiple three pointers. Sure, the Celtics are have only earned a split in those six games, but if you consider that the majority of those have been played without Boston’s big names, it is evident that Green  is the scoring option of the future for the C’s.

If you bought a ticket for this game a while back, you were expecting to see the big three of Boston and arguably the games most promising point guard (if not player at any position) in Kyrie Irving. Instead, Boston’s Three Party all watched and Irving far short of 100%, paving the way for less heralded scoring options. Consider this nugget: the eight players who scored 10+ points in this game have totaled 36.9% fewer career points than Paul Pierce has alone (entering this game).

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Or, if you prefer a circular view

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Fans may not have seen the names they know for Boston or the game they’ve come to know from Irving (4/20 from the field), but they caught glimpse of the future. The Cavaliers get 49 points per night from players 22 years of age or younger, giving them as high an offensive ceiling as anyone.

Jordan Crawford left Washington with a score first, second, and third reputation, with very few people considering him a nice all around player. But since joining Boston in late February, he has focused more on team points than personal points. For the fifth time in seven games, Crawford recorded at least as many assists as FGM. Not to shabby for a player who averages 60% more FGM than assists for his career. While scoring points is his calling card, the ability to distribute is an encouraging sign for his future value to Boston (or any NBA team for that matter) in the future.

The Cavaliers broke an eight game losing streak that lasted over two months in games against teams that have clinched a playoff berth when Tristan Thompson attempts at least 10 shots. That being said, increasing Thompson’s role in the offense (attempted 10+ shots in 21.7% of games last season and is doing so in  48% of games this year) figures to pay dividends sooner rather than later. His scoring has increased by 25.6% while shooting nearly 5% better from the field. His numbers have spiked without a healthy Anderson Varejao, but the skill set is there, and shouldn’t disappear when playing alongside the rebounding machine. If Cleveland can ever get all of its pieces on the court at the same time, this is a scary team that is only going to get better with time.

Kevin Jones struggled from the field but was very active on the glass, earning his 22 minutes by grabbing eight rebounds (three offensive). Jones has appeared in 25 games this season, but has tallied 37% of his rebounds in just two of those contests and 50% of them have come on a Friday. At 6’8” and 260 pounds, Jones is another young force around the rim that can serve as a stop gap when the starters are out of the game. Jones’ rebounding and positive impact was felt by the 14 point advantage held by the Cavaliers in the paint, a game changing stat given the fact that Cleveland won the game by six points. His body type gives him the potential to turn into a specialist, as he can  matchup physically with some of the elite scorers in the league.

Statistical Anomaly: Celtics @ Cavaliers

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on the Celtics last second win over the Cavaliers.

Since Rajon Rondo went down with a torn ACL, Paul Pierce has assumed the distributing role while continuing to be a viable scoring option. He recorded eight dimes and seven made baskets against Cleveland, increasing his percentage of games with at least as many AST as FGM to 59.3% since the Rondo injury. While he has made a strong effort to get his teammates involved, he has still managed to average over 15 points in those games. His ability to score opens up driving lanes for Jeff Green and mid range jump shots for Brandon Bass, two players who have emerged since Boston lost their floor general. In fact, they have scored at least 99 points in a winning effort more time (12) in less games (33) played without Rondo than they did with him (11 in 38). The Celtics are much more talented with Rondo in the lineup, but the playmaking ability combined with the scoring capabilities of Pierce has made them a more efficient team since January 25th.

Brandon Bass missed only his second free throw of the month and his first misfire in 12 games (335 minutes played). Oddly enough, the Celtics are 6-2 since January 17th when Bass misses at least one free throw but have lost three games in the past eight days when he makes all of his attempts (minimum one attempt). With Kevin Garnett’s health issues, the emergence of Bass has come at the most opportune of times. In March, Bass has been remarkably efficient, averaging 1.37 points per FGA (Garnett is averaging 1.18 points per FGA this season). The Celtics are a team no one wants to play this year, but I contend that the end of the KG/Pierce era will not signify the end of the Celtics competitive teams. Rondo (27 years old) and Avery Bradley (22) can hold their own against any backcourt and Jordan Crawford (24) provides a strong scoring punch. In the front court, Jeff Green (26) and Bass (27) have versatile styles that are tough to matchup against. They aren’t an old basketball team, it is simply the household names that are aging. The names won’t be the same, but the win totals aren’t going to change much as the Celtics roster turns over.

Celtics

Each quarter in this game was decided by at least five points. The Celtics won the first and fourth quarter by a total of 13 points (they are outscored by an average of 0.2 points in those two quarters) while the Cavs won the second and third quart by a total of 12 points (they are outscored by an average of 2.2 points in those two quarters). The strong late game performance by Boston is a welcomed site, as they are currently set up for a date with the Knicks in the postseason (the NBA’s second best fourth quarter team in terms of point differential). The subtraction of Rondo helps a bit in this category as well, taking a FT liability out of the game in favor of a player like Jason Terry (86%), Courtney Lee (85%), or Jordan Crawford (79%).

For his career, Daniel Gibson averages 4.2 points per assist, but against the Celtics since December of 2010, Gibson has the exact same number of assists as points. Gibson’s career trajectory has been trending downward ever since LeBron James left town. His percentage of games started, three point percentage, free throw percentage, points, and assists have decreased every single season since The Decision. Don’t be surprised if Gibson, as a unrestricted free agent, isn’t a Cavalier next season, as they’ve got five guards that are his age or younger (Kyrie Irving, Wayne Ellington, Dion Waiters, CJ Miles, and Shaun Livingston) that they seem to like more.

Tristan Thompson, however, is a player that is in the future plans of Cleveland. The 22 year old undersized forward grabbed nine rebounds, his 19th straight game with at least seven rebounds. He has produced seven double doubles over that stretch. The numbers are nice, but the fact that three of his double doubles this month have come against strong teams in the paint (Pacers, Grizzlies, and Jazz) is encouraging. He isn’t the ideal size for a NBA PF (227 pounds), but he is good around the basket and has a nose for the basketball. His statistics are up across the board from his rookie campaign, a trend that should continue as the young Cavs continue to improve.

Take The Next Step, Carmelo

Photo by lukeroberts on Flickr

 

You might’ve seen this video of Kobe Bryant saying he’d like to play with Carmelo Anthony:

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GK5sjh7zJw w=640 h=360]

The most interesting piece of information from that clip is that Kobe told Carmelo that if he was to come to L.A. he’d expect him to join him for 6:00 AM training sessions. Apparently he wasn’t thrilled with this idea, but can you imagine if this had happened? Put aside all the reasons why Bynum for Melo never made sense for the Lakers and think about what Anthony would be capable of if he was as obsessed with basketball as Bryant. Imagine a fully realized version of Melo, using his quickness, strength, and basketball IQ to be a top-notch defender. Those who are unfairly labeled as Carmelo haters are quick to say that he has the tools to develop on the defensive end in a good system — I’d say a system where Kobe Bryant is screaming at you for missing an assignment is the best kind.

Obviously, Carmelo Anthony is not going to play for the Lakers. He’s where he wanted to be, with a co-star in Amar’e Stoudemire who, despite showing good leadership qualities last season from the beginning of training camp, is not Kobe Bryant. And Bryant might be the only guy, save for Kevin Garnett, who I can picture chastising Anthony for playing lazy defense and forcing him into early-morning weightlifting sessions. Bringing Mike Woodson in should help, but I still have my doubts about a Mike D’Antoni team holding him accountable for his bad habits. This means if he’s going to have the career season we want from him, it’s on him. Fortunately, there’s precedent.

If Paul Pierce hasn’t been a leader in the past, then what makes them think he’ll become one this season? He’s saying all the right things now, but when they start to lose tough games, that’s when it’s going to start hitting the fan. They don’t want to wait too long to unload him, because when the player dictates a trade by complaining and setting a bad example, the team gets much less value in return–like Toronto did last year with Vince Carter.

Via Sport’s Illustrated’s Boston Celtics 2005-2006 Preview, 10/24/05

The above sounds pretty silly, given that it was written before the most statistically productive season of Paul Pierce’s career, the season where Bill Simmons says in The Book of Basketball, Celtics fans saw him become “everything we ever wanted.”

He wanted to be a Celtic. He wanted to be there when things turned around. He believed the Celtics were his team, for better or worse, that it was his personal responsibility to lead them. Everyone will remember his ‘08 season, but Pierce’s greatest season had already happened, the year he accepted the responsibility of a franchise player and killed himself every night. The groundwork for everything that happened afterward was laid then and there. Where did it come from? I couldn’t tell you. But it’s the reason a team like Denver ends up keeping ‘Melo for two extra years, because you never want a great player “getting it” as soon as he’s playing for someone else.

Via The Book of Basketball, p. 358

Pierce was 28 when he got it. Anthony is 27 and he clearly sees the Knicks as his team. It’s fantastic that he wants to be involved in off-court stuff, but to show that he’s worth completely gutting an exciting, promising team, he’s going to have to make the same on-court commitment that the veteran Pierce did. The season before Pierce’s career year ended with him yelling at Doc Rivers in a timeout during a blowout loss in Game 7 of the first round when Rivers was getting on him about defense. The end of Anthony’s first half-season with the Knicks wasn’t as dramatic, but it was disappointing – a first-round sweep at the hands of Pierce’s Celtics should be enough to motivate a man trying to lead his own championship contender. And while I submit that I have no idea if that series ever saw D’Antoni criticize Melo for his defensive focus, a couple of months prior his former coach said more than enough.

Approaching this (partial?) season, there’s already reason to be optimistic about Anthony – he’s healthy. Apparently his knee and elbow had been bothering him for the last seven years, and in May he finally had surgery on them. In addition to this, he’s slimmed down a bit. Despite my affinity for the pre-Melo Knicks and the post-Melo Nuggets and this scary Isiah Thomas stuff, I can get excited about seeing Amar’e and Melo work with a training camp under their belts. I’m not sure this team has the depth to properly compete against the upper echelon, but a true superstar turn from Anthony would certainly make that seem like a more realistic proposition. I can see it happening. Please don’t make me look stupid, Melo.

Here’s A Commercial From 2003 With Paul Pierce And Baron Davis


It’s looking less and less like we’ll see a new “The NBA is Back” commercial anytime soon, so let’s close out Paul Pierce week with this gem from 2003. There’s plenty of greatness here, from the crushing irony of Baron Davis telling the group pigeons to hustle to his longing look at the donut before he tosses it down (that type of restraint would likely elude 2011 Baron). For his part, Pierce displays a surprising capacity for comedy. He’s not a scowling curmudgeon like former teammate Kendrick Perkins, but he’s never had the reputation of a hardwood funnyman like Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, or Shaquille O’Neal, either. The wedding cake puts it over the top.

No Championship for Old Men

Power — intoxicating and addictive — is never easily ceded. Not by nations and rarely by champions. It has to be taken. In sports, it’s often taken from the aging or the infirm. In the case of the Boston Celtics, it was both.

If you took one look at the Celtics sideline late on Wednesday night, you would have seen Rajon Rondo and Jermaine O’Neal lying on their aching backs, straining their necks to see the action on the floor. You would have seen Kevin Garnett expending the same amount of energy to do half the things he used to do. Shaquille O’Neal, the future Hall of Famer the Celtics signed to combat the Lakers in The Finals, spent what may be his final NBA game as the largest Big & Tall model in history. And as good as Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are younger and have more talent.

The Celtics wanted to play, but their bodies betrayed them. Their time has ended. The Lakers too. Three days prior to LeBron and the Heat ending the Celtics’ successful four-year run in the East, the “new old” Mavs — an oxymoron — swept Phil Jackson and the two-time defending champion Lakers, playing like schoolyard chumps, into next season.

If the Celtics or Lakers had forced their series to seven games, we may be able to believe Doc Rivers’ claim that his Celtics team “isn’t done” or Kobe Bryant’s claim that the Lakers will be back as a legit championship force in 2011-12.

But the Heat and the Mavs channeled their inner Anton Chigurh and used their captive bolt pistols to blow a big hole through any notion that the Celtics and the Lakers can remain at a championship level beyond this season. It’s not necessarily age itself, but the changes that come with it. They are like Tommy Lee Jones’ sheriff, who chases the light in his dreams but eventually wakes up before he can catch up to it. Those days are history. Things are different now.

If the Lakers couldn’t set aside their trust issues during the postseason, what makes anyone think that they’ll grow fonder of each other over an 82-game regular season? If the Lakers couldn’t get Phil his fourth three-peat, who thinks they’ll be able to band together for a new coach? Do you think the Celtics’ core will somehow grow any younger over the summer? As much as I like to believe Rivers, one of my favorite basketball people of all time, will return to Boston because he’s “a Celtic,” there have been rumblings for some time about him wanting to take a break. Changes should be coming to both teams.

But based on the history of those two franchises, you’d be inclined to believe they will bounce back. Between them they have 33 NBA championships and 52 combined Finals appearances. Based on what we saw of the two teams, it’s hard to believe that they will be able to dominate foes as they have the past four seasons. The NBA has too much talent on too many different teams. Not only that, that talent is in or close to reaching its prime.

For only the fifth time when both teams have made the postseason in the same year, neither the Lakers nor the Celtics made their respective conference finals series. By not having these specific Celtics or Lakers teams to cheer or jeer in a conference finals is slams shut the door on the post-Michael Jordan era of the NBA.

This will be the first Finals without Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan since 1998. It’s as clear a demarcation point in NBA history as the introduction of the shot clock in 1954 or Bill Russell retiring in 1969 or when Jordan and a hungry Bulls team destroyed an aging Lakers team in 1991.

Consider, too, the men who led them. It will be the first time since 1995 Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich and Pat Riley won’t roam the sidelines during The Finals. Though, that stat deserves an asterisk considering Riley is the brains behind this current iteration of the Heat. He has the hardware to prove it.

Riley built the Heat in the Celtics’ image using the lure of a homegrown star to attract other stars. LeBron said as much before and after Game 5. Beating the Celtics was the reason he burned every bridge in Cleveland. For LBJ, getting past the Celtics was like MJ finally getting past the Pistons in ’91.

For LeBron, who at times has a loathsome lack of self-awareness, sounded contrite and humble after the Heat’s win. Whether his overall attitude has changed for the better remains to be seen. But one thing we know: the NBA will never be the same. It’s up to the new power generation to shape it to their liking.

NBA Finals Lakers-Celtics Game 7: Hey, Look! It’s ANOTHER Game 7 Primer!

Holy crap!

It’s Game Seven. GAME FREAKING SEVEN! This is what it’s all about. Instead of trying to find some clever way to tell you how big this game is even though you already know and you’ve already read about 20 Game Seven previews that try to wax poetically about the final game of the year, I’m just going to do what I do best – babble on until I run out of things to say:

Apparently, Perkins Can’t Play On Crutches
So Kendrick Perkins is out. The bum decided two torn ligaments in his knee were too much. Just kidding. This is a bummer for me and hopefully for everybody. I’ve been a huge fan of Perk over the last three years. He’s so good defensively and I don’t think a ton of people realize it. Pretty much every blogger knows it and a lot of the people that read those blogs know it too. But the casual fan has no clue how good Kendrick is defensively. All they see is the angry scowl and the fact that he doesn’t have an upper lip and they just assume he’s an overgrown toddler. One more game probably wasn’t going to change public opinion or public awareness of the impact Kendrick Perkins has but I still wanted to see him and both teams at full strength heading into the final game of the 2009-2010 campaign.

I know Bynum is hurt but he’s able to play hurt. Perk is hugely injured. There’s a huge difference. I just hope that the Celtics don’t use that as an excuse if they lose to the Lakers tonight. They most likely won’t but at the same time, the absence of Bynum is banged on about when talking about the 2008 NBA Finals. These teams are good enough to win without their center.

The Celtics Are Going To Be Fine Without Him
Even though KP is out for probably the next year, the Celtics aren’t toast or even an English muffin. Yes, it sucks that he’s out but the Celtics can easily survive this fact. The key is going to be the first quarter of this game. KG and Rasheed will have to play their butts off and stay out of foul trouble in the first 12 minutes of the ball game. Once the Lakers send Andrew Bynum to the bench, the Celtics have evened up the advantage that the Lakers size gives for the rest of the game. When Bynum goes to the bench, his knee will swell up like the Fourth of July (just go with it). When that happens, the Lakers will have inserted Lamar Odom into the lineup and that’s when Big Baby can check into the game and play a human version of Plinko as he slams into every peg on the floor.

I’m not saying this is easy by any means. Andrew Bynum will be able to dominate in the first quarter if the Lakers look for him. This Celtics team with Perkins can handle Bynum. This Celtics team without Perk cannot. But once he sits for the first time in this game, the knee expands and the pain decides to pull up a chair and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. So if you’re the Celtics, just endure through Bynum’s first stint.

Hitting The Boards Wins The Game
So far in this series, if you want to win any given game then you have to win the rebounding battle. The winning team in each game has won the rebounding edge. Without the healthiness of Andrew Bynum or the existence of Kendrick Perkins, that leaves the majority of the rebounding to Glen Davis and Lamar Odom. I think that whoever has this assignment is going to have to put a body on these guys constantly. Kendrick Perkins said that Big Baby needed “11 rebounds” in this game. I’d say the same for Lamar. For some reason, they have a really easy time of getting to the basket for rebounds. They just have to choose to be aggressive in doing so. Win the rebounding, save the cheerleader, win the championship.

Regardless Of What Happens, You Can’t Blame Ron Artest
There is going to be a certain backlash at the Ron Artest signing if the Lakers lose the NBA Finals. People are going to pretend that Trevor Ariza would have made a huge difference in this series or any other series. It’s all crap. You can’t blame a loss on one player in this series. Is Ron Artest a good shooter? No. Trevor Ariza is probably a better overall shooter in terms of sheer ability. Although, I think the difference is damn near negligible.

However, Trevor Ariza wasn’t a great shooter during his time in Los Angeles. He had a good stretch of shooting when the games were most important but for the most part, he was just an okay shooter. He’s also a different type of defender than what Ron Artest brings to the table. Paul Pierce would have had to get a little more lift on his jumper but he could have created the necessary space to shoot jumpers much easier against Ariza. Artest may have struggled guarding Pierce over the past couple of games but most defenders do (even the elite ones). Ron came in and did his job this year. He hasn’t really been THAT bad on offense during the season or post-season. Sure he’s had his moments but it’s not like he’s been atrocious every time out.

I Thought This Would Be A Good Time To Drop This In (via SB Trey)

Pau Gasol Isn’t Soft
Stop saying Pau Gasol is soft. He’s not. Was he soft two years ago against the Celtics? Maybe. I don’t know for sure because I’m not quite sure what it truly means to be soft. Does him being European make him soft or does it just make him European? Was he soft in the 2009 Finals when he was shutting down Dwight Howard? Didn’t seem like it to me. Just because he’s having a hit-or-miss Finals against the Celtics doesn’t mean he’s not tough enough to be good. He’s proven he can come through in big games. It’s just hard to score against Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace. It doesn’t mean he’s soft; it means he’s human.

EVERYBODY Flops
Lakers fans and Celtcs fans need to come to some sort of resolution on the idea of complaining about flopping. Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher flop an inordinate amount on the court. Paul Pierce flops more than a school of fish that have decided to hoof it on dry land in the Gulf Coast because the water makes them feel like they’re in some sort of Fear Factor challenge. In fact, MOST PLAYERS IN THE NBA FLOP! You guys have go to stop complaining and pretending like the other side is the only side that flops.

Let’s Not Be Stupid And Blame The Refs
Conspiracy theories are just stupid. I get that they’re fun to volley back and forth with the casual fan. But for the most part, they’re just stupid. With that said, I think the officiating has been pretty good. I’ll happily admit that the refs were all over the place in the first three games. Game One was weird. Game Two was called way too tightly and in Game Three was a lot looser than anybody was prepared for. But Game Four and Game 5 (outside of the questionable fourth quarter) were actually officiated quite well. Game Six was good too even if the in-game competition wasn’t exactly legendary.

You can’t say that there was a conspiracy to get this series to a Game Seven because Game Six couldn’t really have been less competitive. You can’t say that the league put these two teams in the Finals because it would get the ratings because 1) Cavs-Lakers would have been much bigger ratings (easier to pull in the casual fan) and 2) how big could the conspiracy be if the result is a series that couldn’t even get better ratings than the USA-England World Cup match? These two teams are in the Finals because they’re the two best teams. And they’re going to a seventh game because they’re the two best teams and a fairly even matchup across the board. Embrace and enjoy.

Kobe’s Legacy Will Be Unaffected
Kobe Bryant is one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball. He’s not THE best player of all time. Jordan was better. But he’s still one of the best. Could probably make the argument that he’s the second best player of all-time. But this game is not going to dramatically raise or drop his place in the lore of the history of the NBA. It’s just not. Let’s say he scores 50 points and points 48, 49 and 50 are on a tough fadeaway three-pointer as time expires to win the game and the NBA title. Does that make him better than he already was/is? What if he misses that shot and just has to live with 47 points, an NBA Finals loss and a missed chance to make a historical moment? What if the Celtics decide to completely take him out of the game and force him to pass nearly every time down the floor? How does this change the legacy of a guy who has won MVP awards and four NBA titles?

I just find it hard to believe that the 48 minutes played tonight has a huge impact on a guy that has already logged over 40,000 minutes in the NBA and been as accomplished as Kobe is. The Jordan argument is moot but the Magic Johnson argument is very alive. I get that. But couldn’t you make a really strong case that Kobe is already the greatest Laker of all-time? If he wins tonight with a spectacular showing, couldn’t you still make a really convincing argument that Magic Johnson is still the greatest Laker of all-time? I just think at this point Kobe’s legacy is cemented and we’re just trying to iron out the final details over the next couple years.

Paul Pierce’s Legacy Will Be Affected
Now this may sound a little hypocritical but Paul Pierce’s legacy IS affected by the outcome of tonight’s game. Yes, Pierce has already accomplished a lot in the NBA and is probably a Hall of Fame player. He’s probably going to get his jersey retired by the Celtics someday too. But winning a second title and being a multiple NBA championship winner makes a huge difference in how you’re remembered. Once you’ve won more than one title, it’s sort of just piling up the wins and accomplishments. But making that leap is huge for how you’re remembered and Pierce knows that.

He wants to be remembered as one of the best Celtics of all-time and rightfully so. He’s had a great career in Beantown. He probably hears the way the older fans talk about Hondo, Cousy, Cowens Russell, Bird, etc. and wants to be mentioned in that group. A second title goes a long way into putting him in that end of the memory bank. Pierce has been sensational over his career. People don’t realize just how good he is. For a five-year stretch, he wasn’t just an incredible offensive talent that made a ton of clutch shots but he was also a pretty savvy defender that held his own with guarding the elite scorers in the NBA. Pierce needs this second title more than Kobe needs his fifth.

THIS IS GAME FLIPPING SEVEN!
Now that you’ve perused nearly 2,000 words up until this point, I’d like you to forget everything you just read. Because ultimately, it shouldn’t impact how you think about this game or watch this game tonight. This is Game Seven of the NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Celtics. This has only happened four times in NBA history up until this moment. Hell, a Game Seven in the NBA Finals has only happened 16 times in NBA history before tonight. This is the type of closure that your ex-girlfriend could only dream of.

So you know what you should do? Just sit back and enjoy the spectacle. Don’t get caught up in complaining about the officiating unless it’s truly horrible. Don’t let your disdain for certain players make you scream at the top of your lungs, wishing a plague upon him and his family. Don’t take this game personally. Just sit back and enjoy it. I’m going to be watching this game with a gigantic smile on my face. This is what we hoped for all season long – a Game Seven of the NBA Finals that causes every player on the floor to give every last ounce of effort they have in their bodies. Think about the game we’re going to see from Kobe Bryant. Think about the game we’re going to see from Rondo, Ray, Pierce and KG. Doesn’t that make you giddy to anticipate the show we’re going to see tonight? Your adrenaline should be pumping all day.

A Game Seven in the NBA Finals hasn’t happened since 2005 and before that it hadn’t happened since 1994. This is a rare thing. This is a treat for good behavior. This is the basketball gods smiling upon us and rewarding us for loving a sport so pure and perfect in its design. This is what we’ve all pretended would happen for us in the driveway while we let our imagination take us to the biggest stage. These guys have done the same thing too. Yes, they’re professional athletes with more money than God. Yes, they live a blessed and ridiculous lifestyle that we could never imagine. But they were once in that driveway or bedroom with the Nerf hoop or park with their friends pretending to play out a moment that will actually come for them tonight. Their dreams coincide with our dreams and come true tonight.

Sit back, relax and enjoy history. I know I will.

NBA Finals Lakers Celtics Game 7: A Legacy Equinox

There’s no more basketball after tonight. Not for five months, anyway. So you’d better enjoy this.

These are the two best teams, according to the metric we use to determine that value (most wins from mid-April through June). So you’d better enjoy this.

This is a Game 7, so you’d better enjoy it.

I’m not simply being a promoter for my favorite sport when I say that NBA Game 7′s are entirely different from the other sports that entertain series. In baseball, there are specific moments that live forever, and certainly memorable pitching performances. A key hit. Things of that nature. And in hockey, there’s certainly the propensity given the scoring nature of the game for moments of unequaled tension and intensity. But basketball more than any other sport holds the potential for individual players to exert their will on a game. It’s where greatness often meets greatness, especially for these two franchises. It’s everything we love about sports. That’s cliche, but then again, so is this series.

Take a look at the list of best Finals performances in a loss from Basketball Reference.  That list is crushing to me, because of so many players that never won a ring, and to have those performances on the biggest stage. One really stuck out to me. Stockton with 16 points on 6 of 10 shooting, 12 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals. In a loss. That set the tone for the rest of the series. I just can’t imagine having gotten to the top, put in that kind of performance, and coming up short. Anyway, take that list and sort it. 5 of the top 25 point totals in a loss in the Finals on that list are from LA-Boston ’08 and LA-Boston ’10.  20% of the top 25 Finals performances that ended up not mattering came between these two teams. Individual greatness isn’t good enough. The whole damn roster has to chip in, AND you have to have quality star performances.

Wishing for a truly great game seems like a risk to me. These playoffs have been dreadful, outside of a handful of moments, and in general have been leading us down a path of fulfillment wrapped in bitterness. We got Lakers Celtics, at the price of a full blown LeBron meltdown and the Suns’ effort and heart being for naught. But there’s always that hope. That last, fleeting hope that this will be one of those games. The kind you remember for the rest of your life. It has to be to make a mark. You see, either way, this championship doesn’t mean much independently. I’m not trying to be a buzzkill, but if you were ask Bill Simmons of his most memorable Celtics championship games, would this one crack the top five? Even more modern-focused Celtic fans would probably list that Game 6 in 2008 as the defining one for them. It’s a product of what happens when you have 32 championships between you. But a special game could overcome all that. If it features both of these teams, at their best, which we really haven’t seen yet, it could become one of those things that’s talked about for years. Where you remember where you were, who you were with, how it felt.

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This isn’t to say that the game has no meaning to its players. Instead, it’s crucial. While #5 for Bryant isn’t as important as #6, #4, or #1 (or really #3), he obviously can’t get to six without it. It’s a separation from Shaq, and stabbing Boston in the throat hold special value as well. The second one puts Gasol in rarefied air, and if he’s going to wind up in the Hall, he’ll need this one and one more. For Odom, it’s going to cement his place in the Laker’s sub-pantheon. One contributing headcase is a footnote, but doing it on multiple championship teams gives him a place in the team’s history. He’ll never be top billing, but he’ll have a place. Phil Jackson blah, blah, blah. Derek Fisher’s an especially relevant component. Five championships, and he may not return next season, depending on how much Phil buys into his ability to stave off the ghosts of time for another year. He’s going to have a very rough next year and a half of his life, with the CBA deal approaching, and this is a moment he should take to cherish, when basketball was all that mattered and he was the starting point guard for a championship team. Crazy Pills? Gets to flip his detractors a middle finger with a ring on it, and redeems himself of all the strikes against him, in his mind. Adam Morrison gets something else he can sell when he’s destitute and living in a refrigerator box in ten years.

For Pierce? He’ll never be in with the 80′s crew. But this puts him in his own level below it. The favorite son, and past the concerns of just being a flash in the pan. Garnett and Allen join the ranks of the multiple winners. A single title gets you in the door and gets you a place among your own time’s peers. A second win puts you into a tier with the all-time great champions. I’m not sure why, I’m just told it does. If the first one is for you, to validate your career to yourself, the second is to validate it to all the greats who flash multiple rings. For Glen Davis? The opportunity of a lifetime. To cement a legacy within the first few years of your career, collect rings, and then ride off into money-soaked sunset, always able to say “I know what it takes to win a championship.” Rondo puts himself on pace for a more-talented Sam Cassell trajectory, with two championships early in his career and nothing but upside. A chance to give back to the guys that helped mentor him into a position to be elite at this level.

Doc Rivers may have the most to gain from this game. If he decides to walk away for his family, this game puts him as the only multiple ring Boston championship coach from outside of Red’s tree. He can walk away as one of the few coaches with multiple rings, having gone from one of the worst-regarded coaches in the league (2007) to one of the best.

Legacies have a steeper climb since the 80′s. That’s the mark you’re set at. Kobe’s got it worse, having to climb not only the 80′s Showtime crew, but Mount Jordan as well. It’s started to strike me as absurd, how often we use “He’s no Jordan!” as some kind of detractor. The man’s on the verge of winning his fifth championship ring within a decade, with Ron Artest and Derek Fisher as two of his starters.

If legacies have become liquid, never cementing until they reach their hottest temperature, then nothing solidifies tonight. But it’s a vital part of the story for all careers involved, and with no tomorrow, literally, in the 2009-2010 NBA Season, you have to believe anything can happen.
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LA is winning this game. I got out of my car this morning and realized it. I tend to have either no sense whatsoever about an important game, or a very strong one. Which isn’t to say these feelings are at all accurate. I’m usually more accurate when I have a strong emotional reaction to the game. I woke up in January of 2004 and knew, absolutely, in my heart of hearts, that the Chiefs, despite their best season in over a decade, were going to lose to the Colts. It was arguably the most important game of my life after the age of 12 and I knew, 100%, we would lose. It wasn’t brought on by masochism or negativity, I was just sure of it. I knew the Suns were going to lose Game 6 versus San Antonio in 2007. That said, I don’t really care about this game. A self-aggrandizing, self-entitled, pampered franchise will win tonight, and a self-aggrandizing, self-entitled, pampered franchise will lose tonight. As I said, it’s another in a long line of titles. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great theater, and I’ve really enjoyed these Finals. While we haven’t seen both teams at their best in a game so far, we have seen some entertaining basketball.  It’s best for the sport, best for the league, best for the fans when these two franchises meet and it goes seven. I’m merely saying that while I feel very strongly LA will win, I don’t have any emotional attachment to that prediction.

But LA is winning. Perkins’ injury is one of those things that pierces the chest plate and gets to the ventricles. Davis is a terrific bench player but probably not adept at stopping the starting line. Pierce has been terrific, but if the Lakers’ help defense has its head out of its ass, you can cut off the places Pierce wants to go and he’ll force it. Ron Artest will probably hit a few big shots and disappoint in terms of being the wacky true self he’s been for three games in this series.

I told a colleague the other day that basketball, for all its complexity and motion, all its strategy and reactions, is still largely vulnerable to the simple physical attributes of its players. The Lakers are tall. And that’s why they’ll win. I can give you talk about their transition defense, or their inside-out work, about how the overload defense won’t allow for cross-court passes to Allen or Sheed, about Kobe’s drive-and-post work, or Odom’s righty move against Davis forcing him left. But at the end of it? The Lakers are tall. And tall guys win at basketball.

Analysis.

Enjoy Game 7, everyone.