I’m still trying to process the nirvana we all witnessed last night. For now, here are just a few thoughts.
Tim Duncan, long-overdue for even a good game after an overall disappointing series, was superb in the first half, shooting 11-of-13, including a perfect 6-of-6 in the first quarter. He didn’t so much turn back the clock as he did perform his greatest hits: a bank shot just below the elbow, a turnaround hook, even an opportunistic dunk after Tony Parker sucked in three defenders at the rim. However, it was not to last. Bosh, the most frequent student of Duncan’s harsh tutelage, played terrific defense on Duncan in the second half, both fronting him and playing him extremely well in one-on-one situations.
When a star turns in such a performance in a loss, there’s a tendency to cry that the team wasted that player’s effort. Maybe, sometimes, that holds true, if that player was the only one on the team producing anything of substance. This was not the case here, as Kawhi Leonard, with his 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Tony Parker (also mostly ineffective after the first half, save for the last twenty or so seconds of the game), also put up valiant efforts. It’s a shame San Antonio couldn’t capitalize on one of Duncan’s finest finals performances, especially when the game seemed to be firmly in their grasp, but it’s a stretch to say it was a wasted effort.
The last minute or so of the game was one of the most exciting periods of basketball of the entire season. Threes abound, from LeBron’s second-chance, to Tony Parker’s prayer answered and Ray Allen’s we-should-have-expected-that-but-it-was-still-incredible shot.
Poor Kawhi Leonard.
Spoelstra opted to re-insert Dwyane Wade, despite the overwhelming success of the Wade-less lineup that instantly improved the spacing and was critical to the Heat’s comeback. And while Wade’s defense disrupted San Antonio’s offense, heading off cutters and denying passing lanes, his offense disrupted that of his own team. Spoelstra, in all likelihood, is well aware of Dwyane Wade’s on/off numbers. Obsessed with the minutiae and details, Spoelstra knows that, for the series, with LeBron and Wade on the court together, the Heat’s offensive and defensive rating is 100.8 and 112.7. He likewise knows that with LeBron on the court and Wade off, the offensive rating shoots to 131.7 while the defensive rating plummets to 89.5. Yet that knowledge does not eradicate all emotions. We praised Popovich for having the necessary detachment to leave Duncan on the bench in a crucial moment against the Warriors, but I don’t think we fully understand just how tough it is to do that to not only a star, but a star whom a coach has grown with, just as Spoelstra has grown with Wade. The numbers may have said to leave Wade on the bench, and it was likely the best strategy. But numbers, for better or for worse, don’t always guide decisions.
This was the second game six in which LeBron dazzled and destroyed, each performance defined by a single word. In Boston, it was The Stare, the usually exuberant LeBron seemingly vacant of all emotion. Last night, it was The Headband, and by eschewing his signature accessory, James eschewed any and all final links to the LeBron of the past. No longer un-clutch. No longer unafraid. The headband was a prison, long ago adorned by James, for fear that neither he nor the rest of the world could handle his awesome power. But fear would not rule LeBron, not this day. OK, it probably had more to do with the fact that there was a really important game going on and he couldn’t care less about a piece of fabric.
Still, while the loss of his headband didn’t unlock some heretofore untapped power, that it almost perfectly coincided with the Heat’s miraculous comeback will certainly shape the legacy (sorry, Derek) of this game. This is not something to bemoan. So many of any sport’s iconic games or performances are fondly recalled by a word or a phrase: The Flu Game, The Hand of God, The Catch, The Bloody Sock, and now, The Headband.
This is what we wanted.
This is what we hoped and wished and begged and prayed and pleaded for: seven games of this magnificent match-up. And there could not have been a more perfect set-up to usher us in to Thursday night’s finale than last night’s instant masterpiece.
Miss any of last night’s action. Actually, so did I. I went to sleep at 10 and got a great night’s sleep, thanks for asking. Oh, what’s that? You want me to shut up and make with the .gifs and the jokes? I see how it is. ONWARD!
TAJ GIBSON OH MY GOD
Twitter exploded in a fury of exclamations and Taj Gibson puns last night, and for good reason. Even though Gibson didn’t quite dunk over Kris Humphries, it’s safe to assume he still smothered Humphries’ mortal soul. Dunk of the playoffs, so far.
The Brooklyn Nets/C.J. Watson
First, there was this.
Courtesy of NBA.com
That, dear reader, is Brooklyn’s shot chart from the first half. It’s fine, I’ll wait until you return from wiping away the vomit you almost certainly just spewed all over your monitor.
Yet, somehow, the Nets valiantly fought pack from this putrid, wretched, makes-your-eyes-bleed first half shooting performance to not only bring the game within 3, but have the last possession as well. Truly, it was like an epic fantasy, complete with C.J. Watson, unceremoniously eschewed from the Bulls, set to exact revenge against his former team by tying the game. Watson sets up in the corner, receives the ball, and launches. Through the air the ball soars, climbing, climbing, climbing, then falling, falling, falling…and falling well short of the basket.
Courtesy of SBNation
No, it hasn’t quite turned out the way Brandon Jennings predicted. But at least we, and the Bucks, have LARRY SANDERS! And not just shotblocking LARRY SANDERS! But coast-to-coast dunking LARRY SANDERS! Too!
See. I knew it. Randolph’s just a big teddy bear. Also, an honorary Lion Face goes to Matt Barnes for not peeing his pants when Z-Bo stomps towards him. I would have immediately assumed the fetal position.
DeAndre Jordan’s legs
Like 7/11, they’re open 24/7. What’s Marc Gasol’s favorite spice? NUTMEG! I’ll show myself out.
Allen had his regular season three-point record broken by Steph Curry. No matter, says Allen, I’ll just go and get another record. Congratulations to Allen, now the owner of the most made three-pointers in playoff history.
In the fourteen days since the gong was rung on official free agency, player movement has been considerable and constant. Among the new multi-year contracts inked in the past two weeks, nine have gone to players who will be over the age of 35 by the time next season begins. This includes Jason Terry, Grant Hill, Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Steve Nash, Ray Allen and Tim Duncan. Two others, Antawn Jamison and Chauncey Billups have agreed to one year contracts. Nazr Mohammed is also reportedly close to signing with the Bulls, and a handful of others in that age bracket, like Raja Bell, are still available and could feasibly receive multi-year deals as well.
Those players I’ve mentioned above have, for the most part, been very productive for an extended period of time. In the context of professional basketball, they’re also all eligible for the senior citizen’s discount. I’ll admit, I find it somewhat confusing to hear the Celtics have signed Terry to a three-year deal, given that it was 16 years ago that I watched him win a National Championship with the Arizona Wildcats. Focusing just on career production, the contracts Terry and his cohorts have received this summer seem perfectly reasonable. But when you consider their age and injury histories, some of the logic and reason seems to leak out of those multi-year deals.
However, there is a commonly held idea which is bringing comfort to fans in many NBA cities. That idea, a favorite talking point of Bill Simmons, is that advancements in nutrition and physical training are allowing players to extend the productive segments of their careers in a way they never have before. Three of the players Simmons mentions most often – Duncan, Nash, Garnett – are all in that group that received multi-year extensions this summer.
That group of over-35 players has obviously continued to produce and win games, or they simply wouldn’t have had multi-year offers available to them. But is this phenomenon of older stars extending their careers and maintaining productivity truly something new? Are older players really more productive than they have been in the past?
On an individual basis, it turns out that new ground is not being broken. I used Win Shares as a measure of productivity and looked at the best individual seasons from the last 30 years, for players over the age of 35. Just 10 of the top 40 individual seasons occurred during the last decade. The only individual season from the last decade to makes the top 10 was Karl Malone’s 11.1 Win Shares in 2002-2003, at age 39.
This is also not a case where the heroic efforts of a few have skewed the sample in favor of the past. Malone, David Robinson, John Stockton, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Artis Gilmore, Detlef Schrempf, Reggie Miller, Robert Parish, Dikembe Mutombo, Moses Malone, Dennis Rodman, Sam Perkins, Arvydas Sabonis, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Alex English, Bob Lanier, Horace Grant, Jeff Hornacek, Hakeem Olajuwon, Anthony Mason, Dale Ellis and Dan Issel all had seasons over the age of 35 where they produced at least 6.0 Win Shares. All of those seasons occurred in the first two-thirds of our 30 year sample. To put that level of production in context, in 2010-2011, 6.0 Win Shares would have placed a player into, roughly, the top 15% of NBA players in terms of productivity.
Although many over-35 players have had incredibly productive seasons in the past, how has that age bracket fared as a group, historically and over the past few seasons? Sticking with Win Shares as a measure of productivity, I calculated the total Win Shares produced by players over the age of 35, in each of the last 30 NBA seasons. The totals for both strike-shortened seasons are 82 game projections based on the games that were actually played.
While things have certainly been trending upward over the past few seasons, the over-35s are haven’t even approached the total productivity of the six year stretch they had from 1997 to 2003. That era saw the career twilights of Malone, Stockton, Robinson, Miller, Drexler, Barkley and Olajuwon; all Hall of Famers who remained incredibly productive as they aged.
Adding another layer of information we can to look at how many over-35 players it took to produce those incredible Win Share totals.
The spike in Win Shares, both recently and during the 97-03 stretch, was also accompanied by an increase in the number over-35 players in the league. The number of over-35 players has been trending upward in each of the last three seasons but still rests below the apex of that previous stretch. The height of success for older players in the NBA, both in the number of roster spots they held and the number of wins they produced occurred almost 15 years ago. It’s also interesting that the number of older players steadily declined, along with overall productivity, for an eight year span from 2001 to 2009. This would seem to be the time period that most of those new advances in the science of athletic performance would have been making their way into the world of professional basketball.
The next step is to look at the average Win Shares produced by those players. This average is now graphed on the second vertical axis.
The average line is somewhat misleading. The peak of this graph came in the early 80s when there were just a handful of players over-35, one of whom was the single-handed average-skewer, Kareem Abdul-Jabar. The average Win Shares per season of players over-35 had a resurgence in the late 2000s roughly equal to the 97-03 time period, but it has actually fallen each of the last two seasons.
One more measure to look at for further clarification is Variance. This is a measures of the variation in Win Shares, each season, from the least productive player to the most productive player. The higher the variance, the bigger the difference was between best and worst. This is also graphed on the secondary axis.
There is one curiosity I’d like to point out. In no way do I mean this as an accusation, but I found it incredibly interesting that the height of productivity among older players in the NBA, matches up almost precisely with the height of steroid use in Major League Baseball. As I mentioned above that time span also saw the simultaneous aging of numerous Hall of Famers. Nevertheless, there is something eerie about the symmetry. Unfortunately, we may never know how that piece fits into this puzzle.
Although the over-35 players of the last few seasons have not been nearly as productive overall as previous groups, there is definitely an interesting pattern at work which may reveal some of the impacts those advances in nutrition and physical training have had. The number of over-35 players has been increasing over the four seasons, although their average productivity has remained somewhat flat. The variance has also, essentially, been flat or declining the past four seasons. The pattern then is a move to the middle. A mostly flat trend in the average, coupled with a decline in variance means the average is being carried by players in the middle range of productivity. There are fewer terrific players, but fewer awful ones as well. The fact that there are increasingly more players in that age bracket means we are seeing more and more moderately productive players extending their careers.
There is certainly a bubble of Hall of Fame quality players continuing to produce at terrific levels. However, this has happened before. Fifteen years ago it happened because a cluster of supremely talented players were moving through the chronology of their careers at the same time. The incredible longevity of Duncan, Nash and Garnett may have as much to do with their individual greatness as it does with technological advancements that allow them to take better care of their bodies. However, the moderately successful longevity of players like Jason Terry, Nazr Mohammed, Vince Carter, Antonio McDyess, Brad Miller and Marcus Camby may be where we are seeing the true effects of modern science.
The advancements in nutrition and physical training are all about preventing the erosion of skills. Players like Nash, Duncan and Garnett, who are supremely talented in multiple aspects of the game and play with a deep understanding of the nuances of basketball, will be able to survive and thrive even as some of their skills degrade. However, stopping that skill erosion for a player like Terry who really only does on or two things on the court, may be the difference between being in the league or sitting on their couch at home. The players who have less to lose seem to be benefiting more from holding on to what they have.
We’re a little worried about this lockout. We want basketball. But in case we don’t get basketball, we’re going to give ourselves a season.
The following is a work of fiction and no one was harmed in the writing of this story. These works will be based on how we think the 2011-12 season would play out if the lockout ended and the NBA is able to play all 82 games. Every other week, we will have a fictional work until the lockout is over. This is the first. The heart believes it will be a singular work and the NBA will be back in business soon. The head, sadly, realizes that it may not be the case.
BOSTON, June 1, 2012 — Ray Allen sat at his locker with a thin towel draped over his shoulders and another wrapped tight around his still-slim waist, a waist that hasn’t gained an inch over Allen’s professional career. His feet were in Jordan brand sandals, his toes separated by pieces of foam cut to fit. Allen said he learned the trick early in his career from a vet on his first team, the Milwaukee Bucks. The foam prevented the toes from sliding and smashing into the toecap and helped minimize bruising and torn toenails. Combine that with regular pedicures the he received to prevent ingrown toenails and Allen’s feet — the base from which he made an all-time NBA record of 2,703 three-pointers — looked as if they could carry him for another 16 seasons.
The scoresheet from the Celtics’ epic 99-98 Game 7 overtime loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals lay between Allen’s pristine feet. The rest of him looked spent. He had just played 51 of the game’s 53 minutes. If he saw his line, it read like this:
The 39 points were the most he scored all season, regular or post. The 51 minutes were easily the most. Allen, a free agent, had no reason to hang his head in what had been his best game of this unusual season.
Yet there it hung and his shoulders sagged. Allen’s elbows rested on his knees and his fingers dangled like branches from a weeping willow. The Celtics locker room was quiet and reporters, who had just been informed that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce would be the only Celtics to go to the podium, milled about waiting for that precious eye contact from a player, a signal that he was ready to open up or spout cliches.
Most of the reporters had turned away from Allen. They knew that he never spoke to them just after the locker room opened. In fact, it was rare to see Allen there at that time at all. By the time reporters entered after the cooling off period, Allen was gone to treatment, then the showers. If the local scribes did catch a glimpse of him, it was fleeting, like an apparition. When Allen did emerge from the players’ sanctuary, he strode to his locker in a bespoke suit, put a couple things down, usually the book he was reading and a DVD of the Celtics’ next opponent, and then turned around to face the media.
But in the silence that suffocates a space after a devastating defeat, there was what sounded like a sharp sob coming from the direction of Allen’s locker. Then another. Any murmuring between reporters ceased and their heads turned in Allen’s direction. Allen’s shoulders heaved once, then again. He pinched the bridge of his nose with his right hand and made a small circular motion. There was another sharp sound. The seasoned Boston scribes stood in stunned silence. None of them had ever seen this.
If Allen were upset, it would be understandable. It was the worst season of his 16 year, soon-to-be Hall of Fame career. He missed 41 games after the Pacers’ Danny Granger tripped trailing Allen on a screen and rolled into Allen’s right knee in a game on Jan. 6. Allen feverishly worked his way back from arthroscopic surgery. He was ready to return at the end of February, but suffered a setback as doctors had to go back in for a second surgery.
When Allen finally returned against Utah in late March, he came off the bench for the first time in his career. He couldn’t get his timing and his sturdy legs, which propelled him around picks and provided the springboard for the smoothest jumper in NBA history, were now shaky. So was Allen’s confidence.
“I’m working hard to get my rhythm back,” Allen told the Boston Globe in April. “My knee isn’t responding as I hoped it would. Your legs are so important to your shot.”
Throughout his career, Allen’s work ethic had been well chronicled, almost fetishized by the media. They noted how he arrived at the arena at the same time, ate at the same time and went through his pregame routine at the same time every game day. As a military brat, Allen knew routine as discipline and discipline as order. If there was order in his life, Allen knew success, built on a solid foundation of meticulous work, would follow. It did. He won a Big East tournament title at UConn, won a gold medal with Team USA in the 2000 Sydney games, made 10 All-Star appearances for three different franchises and played Jesus in a Spike Lee movie.
Then there was the crowning achievement in his career, the NBA title he helped the Celtics win in 2008. He had come close to the Finals with the Bucks in 2001 and nowhere near them with the Sonics. An alpha dog in Seattle, Allen subjugated his game to blend in with Pierce and Garnett. The result: the C’s 17th NBA title.
But as Allen struggled in his comeback, Yahoo! reported a Celtics source as saying they weren’t going to re-sign Allen, who wanted a two-year extension with the same player option he had when he re-signed for two seasons in 2010. The source noted Allen would be nearly 39 when the extension ended and that it would be in the C’s best interest to seek a younger option at two guard. Combined with the physical ailments, Allen’s world, which he had so diligently worked to put in order, was now out of whack. For the first time in his career, Allen was coming off the bench, a move Celtics coach Doc Rivers said was necessary to limit the guard’s minutes. Allen averaged 12.6 points per game and shot .332 from three-point range, both career lows for a shooter, who, if his jumper could sing, it would sound like Marvin Gaye.
Allen and that melodious jumper re-emerged in the postseason. He averaged 19.4 points in the first round against the franchise for whom he first played, the Bucks. Against Orlando in the second round, he shot a scintillating .435 from three-point range. In the East finals, Allen averaged 24.3 for the first six games running Dwyane Wade, who missed 26 games this year with shoulder problems, through a series of screens designed to bang Wade around.
Then came Game 7 and that overtime and those 39 points, the final three of which gave the C’s an 98-96 lead with 3.4 seconds left in OT. Allen was back. The Celtics were on the precipice of their third Finals appearance in five seasons before Mario Chalmers, the Heat’s fourth option, found himself open for a short-corner three right in front of the C’s bench. Swish.
And now, Allen sat at his locker after what was more than likely his last game as a Boston Celtic and he was â€¦ crying? Allen let go of his nose, stood and reached for something in his locker, his back to the reporters. When he turned to head to the showers, Allen instantly noted the sympathetic looks on the reporters’ faces and frowned.
“Hiccups,” Allen said in his flat baritone, his eyes dry and jaw set. “Pinch your nose, hold your breath, close your eyes tight and count to 20. Works every time.”
Now, some reporters looked incredulous.
“You all thought I was crying?” Allen said, neither his expression nor his tone changing. “You know me better than that.”
They did. They knew he’d be back in about 15 minutes, freshly showered, freshly dressed, prepared to answer questions for however long it took to ask them. The reporters would pepper him about the game (“Hell of a game. I thought we had it, we just got caught looking at LeBron and Wade.”), quiz him about his knee (“It’s a little sore, but I’m 37. Everything is sore.”) and query him about his future (“I’d love to be here. Celtics green is the best green I’ve worn in my career. It’s where I won a title. It’s important.”)
With that, Allen paused and pinched his fingers to his nose again. A reporter tried levity.
“You could say that,” Allen said. “This whole season has been one.”
He looked over the reporters as if to say, “anything else.” One reporter stepped forward to say good luck and thanks. Allen and the man exchanged pleasantries. Allen then grabbed his book — “Collapse” by Jared Diamond — and his coat. He started to walk out of the locker room with the confidence some mistook for arrogance.
“Yep,” Allen said to no one in particular, “a hiccup. Can’t go out like that.”
With that, Ray Allen, turned, smiled and was gone.
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.
Assumptions are a funny thing. They invade the mind, spawn and manifest themselves in ways that affect our thought process in manners beyond our scope of comprehension. Our day to day existence is very much impacted whether we know it or not. A bad experience as a child can alter the way we perceive things later in life. A faulty product leaves us believing the worst about the company as a whole. Assumptions arenâ€™t always a bad thing they simply alter our acuity, often shifting perception, with the variable being the size of the scale.
Perhaps one of the most widespread assumptions as they pertain to professional sports â€“ and one that has traditionally proven to be accurate â€“ is that advancement in age results in a drop-off in production. Sooner or later, every athlete in every sport hits that wall. Shots donâ€™t fall like they used to, the familiar spring in the legs is evanescent and the bumps linger longer than they used to. We simply assume that once our stars start creeping closer to 40 that itâ€™s all over, whether or not they age gracefully or leave us cringing, they start fading to black.
What happens when they donâ€™t get that memo? The Celtics Big 3 continue to produce at a high level despite being on the down slope of their playing days and have been lauded for it â€“ rightfully so. Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki remain among the NBAâ€™s most revered players even being past their expected primes (though Dirk at 32 is still technically there). How is it then, with this crop of aging superstars still very much dominating the leagueâ€™s spotlight that Steve Nash â€“ in the midst of arguably his best season ever from a statistical standpoint â€“ has managed to fade from the discussion of best active point guards?
With all due respect to Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, et al, Nashâ€™s production at the ripe age of 37 makes him the most impressive floor general still lacing them up. Playing for a Suns team that is a shell of the thrilling Phoenix teams of a few years ago, the modern day Godfather of the pick and roll is â€œquietlyâ€ putting together a line of 16 points and 11 assists while shooting nearly 51% from the floor and 38% beyond the arc. His per-36 numbers are right up there with his best seasons during his prime and his assist numbers have never been better. The sage veteran ranks in the top ten among all point guards in scoring, assists, field-goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage and free throw percentage and yet isnâ€™t goodenough to make the All-Star team.
Some may call it the passing of the torch to a new generation of point guards, I call is subconscious ageism. Our image of Nashâ€™s greatness is so convoluted with what we perceive him to be rather than what he is, that in the midst of another brilliant season in the expected twilight of his career, he is lost in a sea of youthful exuberance and explosiveness at the point guard position. Weâ€™re blinded by our own assumptions of one of the gameâ€™s great playmakers.
What weâ€™re seeing has never been done before and like so many new and unfamiliar entities that we encounter, we misjudge what is in front of us. In this â€œGolden Age of the Point Guardâ€ weâ€™re blessed to witness explosive, young players equally as capable of dolling out 15 assists as they are of completing jaw dropping forays to the rim. Nashâ€™s beautiful gift of playing angles and seeing passing lanes that no one else does is overshadowed by individuals who simply obliterate the geometry of the game. But above all else, Nash simply isnâ€™t falling in line with our preconceived notions of an aging point guard.
Itâ€™s acceptable for Ray Allen to remain a marquee individual because we all know the jumper is the last thing to go. Kobe is one of the fiercest competitors of his or any generation, so he can will himself to the basket until he is 50 for all we care. But for Nash, playing a position that requires speed, athleticism and the latest trend a 36-inch vertical, he manages to stay elite in a world that assumes otherwise.
The greatest hope for every fan is that their favorite stars can play forever, but the mortality of their greatness is constantly present in our understanding of them. We watch because we know what is, wonâ€™t always be. Yet somehow, Nash has managed to outlive our predestined conceptualization of his career, but rather than pay witness to this remarkable aberration, the publicâ€™s state of mind forges on to the latest and greatest.
I don’t want to beat the “What Should I Do?” rhetorical question to death here. It’s been done, and overdone, and redone, and remocked and overmocked and the whole works. I loved the commercial (almost entirely for the “So… this went well.” joke. I never get tired of that gag. Why? Because it’s A. what you want him to say and B. what you think you would say. As I said on Twitter, I like the Nike LeBron so much more than the actual LeBron. I need a Nike me.), but we’re past it. But still, when I was trying to bring some sort of cohesive concept brought together about the Heat, it took a question to get me started. The opening point. The root.
“What’s it going to take?”
What’s it going to take, LeBron?
For you to get to that place, again? I’m not talking somewhere you’ve never been. I’m not like all the idiots out there talking about your playoff legacy as if Game 5 was the sum and total eclipse of it. It wasn’t. It was a bad game, brought on by something which was clearly not an organic output of your game. I don’t care what it was. It’s over. And in the great history of this game, every single player has a dark moment like that. They say you quit, fine. I’ve seen enough of you during this brilliant career of yours to know that simply doesn’t fit the mold. I’ve seen you bring playoff teams back from the brink, take over games like no one else and hit shots you have no business in hitting. So I’m not asking what it’s going to take for you to get to where you need to be, I’m asking what it’s going to take to get you back there. You said it was teammates. You’ve got ‘em. Kind of. You’ve at least got one, the true running mate, and Haslem wants it at least as badly as Varejao did.
You get to the lane, and you jump pass. You get to the rim, and you lean away. Is it the charge? Did the Drunken Seal spook you that badly? Again, don’t listen to the idiots saying you’re soft. Even if your mental constitution is lacking or damaged or whatever, you’re still simply physically superior to every player on the court. So I don’t buy it. So what is it? Why are you letting layup bounce off the rim instead of finishing with certainty? What’s it going to take to get your focus where it needs to be? What’s it going to take to get your anger riled? You’re not an angry person. Everything we know about you suggests this. I don’t mind it. Hell, I envy it. Not being bothered by what people say about you is a sign of courage, or at least inadvertent courage through obliviousness. But Jesus, man. The Celtics have twice spanked you. And I’m not just saying that because they beat you, and kept it comfortable for most of the game. I’m saying that because they treated you like a child who misbehaved, and sent you to your room.
To your credit? You got to the rim. While Celtics fans are complaining about your foul count, they’re also ignoring how consistent you were with attacking instead of settling for that pull-up jumper we’ve blasted you for. You worked to get to that rim, even if you deferred or shrank at the moment closest to completion. And you drew fouls. All over the place. Lots and lots and lots of jumpers. But you miss your free throws. Eight of twelve? Not going to get it done. Hit those four and it’s a one point game. Asking you to be flawless is too much? Too bad. That’s the table and you’re going to have to eat at it.
So what’s it going to take? What’s it going to take for you to get where you were, where you need to be, to finally give a damn about this team and the way it not only overcomes you, but does so like you don’t even matter? What’s it going to take?
What’s it going to take, Spoelstra?
It takes a special set of circumstances to give a coach an easier job than Phil Jackson has had. And yet you have both been blessed with such circumstances and failed in nine games to capitalize on it. This isn’t about Rome not being built in a day. This is about the Roman architects looking at stone and saying “Let’s make a boat!” Those turnovers in the first game? Forgivable. Completely. Teaching guys new places to be, new rotations, it takes time. But whatever this concept is that you’re trying to execute? It’s not working. Four of those five wins don’t matter, not to anyone that’s actually evaluating you, and the fifth is overshadowed by the New Orleans and Utah losses. So then you have a wash, and it comes down to Boston. Losing to Boston? Nothing wrong with that. But it’s the fact that you managed to construct a 5-point blowout and did so because continually your team is incapable of getting its star player a shot… despite having three of them! You cannot possibly think that jump-pass to James Jones after jump-pass to Eddie House after jump-pass to James Jones is what this offense should be about, do you?
41 of your 74 field goals were jumpers. 41 of 74. You have all these weapons, all these options, and you’re creating 41 of 72 jump shots inside the arc with another 20 three–pointers. That doesn’t really much left over for the kinds of shot you want to be getting, which are at rim. You ran 7 pick and rolls with James as the ball handler. You posted him 3 times. With Paul Pierce guarding him. What’s it going to take for you not to settle, Spo?
What’s it going to take, Riley?
What’s it going to take to realize that for all the classy veteran fun Carlos Arroyo brings you that you need a point guard? And we’re not talking Chris Paul here. You just need someone who isn’t going to get destroyed. Someone who can compete. D-League guys are bad, but they’ll at least bust through a screen if you tell them to. What’s it going to take to realize that all the ancient guys you brought on may not be viable options? What’s it going to take to realize that either someone says something to Chris Bosh, or he’s of little to no value to you?
What’s it going to take, world?
What’s it going to take to get past it? “The Decision was obnoxious. That’s certainly true. Coming up from the ground at the arena? Sure it looks bad. That wasn’t televised to a world audience. It was for the fans in Miami, and while the whole of them seem to suck so far, I’m sure there are actual Heat fans in that city who were pretty excited to have this happen to their team. Other than that? What? What did they do? Cleveland’s got every right to be livid with him and that team till the day they die. Fine. Can’t blame them. But since when did it become fashionable to make not just sports villains out of these guys but hold them up as if they are despicable human beings who deserve every ounce of scorn we can muster for them because they dared to get together to play basketball? What prompted this assertion that they are some terrible collection of human beings? They’re athletes. That’s it. Dwyane Wade does as much for charity as any player in the NBA and has always conducted himself with respect and dignity. Want to see him be a winner? Check 2006. You’ve got every right to cheer for your team, the good guys, and boo the bad guys. But the, honestly, frightening lack of respect for common humanity being lobbed at these guys is enough to make someone nauseous. They’re not sinners to us, that’s up to whatever things are out there in the ether. They’re just professional athletes who carry with them ego. You don’t think Baron Davis thinks he’s one of the best players in the league? Or Paul Pierce? Or Mo Williams? Or any other members of the highest professional basketball league in the world? Of course these guys have egos. Millions of people cheer for them on a daily basis. They’re not connected to reality. Very few athletes are.
But what gives us the right to criticize them beyond “Man, they sucked last night?” Because that’s not what’s going on. It’s “Those guys suck because they are classless pieces of trash who have no respect for themselves or the game.” Which is absurd. They’re just people. People who aren’t playing basketball very well together right now and had they played well last night and ended up six points better, you would simply be saying how “It doesn’t matter because they didn’t do it in the playoffs” or you’d be dead quiet. You want to talk about how Carlos Arroyo can’t play point guard? I’d love to hear your thoughts. You want to talk about how James and Wade need to stop taking drifting angles on drives? Let’s chat. But if you want to talk about how these guys don’t deserve our respect and we should lay down all their failures and roll around in them like Demi Moore in “Indecent Proposal?” What’s it going to take for us to move past this objectification of these people as some sort of symbol for what’s wrong with the world? They’re athletes. They play basketball, they go home.
Your vitriol is unsatisfying, it is disgusting, and it is unwarranted. What’s it going to take for you to grow up? Be fans. Don’t fit the narrative. And that goes double for writers.
You’re better than that.
What’s it going to take, rim?
What’s it going to take for you to not hate Dwyane Wade against the Celtics? I watched those shots. They weren’t bad shots. They were the same shots he always hits. But you had it rattle in and out of you fourteen times before rejecting it. Is it personal? You should get over it.
What’s it going to take, Boston?
What’s it going to take to beat you? What’s it going to take, because at this point, I don’t know that there’s a solution. Your rotations are perfect, your ball movement, sublime, and when it isn’t? You get the offensive rebound and you reset the offense and then, sure enough, because the defense was busy preparing for the break, Ray’s slipped to the corner and there he is, wide open. I don’t have any idea of when you’ll get old, when you’ll get tired, when you’ll get beatable. Because right now, as it has been since last mid-April, you look like the only thing that can take you down is the Lakers.
Itâ€™s Game Seven. GAME FREAKING SEVEN! This is what itâ€™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 youâ€™ve already read about 20 Game Seven previews that try to wax poetically about the final game of the year, Iâ€™m just going to do what I do best â€“ babble on until I run out of things to say:
Apparently, Perkins Canâ€™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. Iâ€™ve been a huge fan of Perk over the last three years. Heâ€™s so good defensively and I donâ€™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 doesnâ€™t have an upper lip and they just assume heâ€™s an overgrown toddler. One more game probably wasnâ€™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 heâ€™s able to play hurt. Perk is hugely injured. Thereâ€™s a huge difference. I just hope that the Celtics donâ€™t use that as an excuse if they lose to the Lakers tonight. They most likely wonâ€™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 arenâ€™t toast or even an English muffin. Yes, it sucks that heâ€™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 thatâ€™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.
Iâ€™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 thereâ€™s nothing anybody can do about it. So if youâ€™re the Celtics, just endure through Bynumâ€™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 â€œ11 reboundsâ€ in this game. Iâ€™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 Canâ€™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. Itâ€™s all crap. You canâ€™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 wasnâ€™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. Heâ€™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 hasnâ€™t really been THAT bad on offense during the season or post-season. Sure heâ€™s had his moments but itâ€™s not like heâ€™s been atrocious every time out.
I Thought This Would Be A Good Time To Drop This In (via SB Trey)
Pau Gasol Isnâ€™t Soft Stop saying Pau Gasol is soft. Heâ€™s not. Was he soft two years ago against the Celtics? Maybe. I donâ€™t know for sure because Iâ€™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? Didnâ€™t seem like it to me. Just because heâ€™s having a hit-or-miss Finals against the Celtics doesnâ€™t mean heâ€™s not tough enough to be good. Heâ€™s proven he can come through in big games. Itâ€™s just hard to score against Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace. It doesnâ€™t mean heâ€™s soft; it means heâ€™s human.
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 theyâ€™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.
Letâ€™s Not Be Stupid And Blame The Refs
Conspiracy theories are just stupid. I get that theyâ€™re fun to volley back and forth with the casual fan. But for the most part, theyâ€™re just stupid. With that said, I think the officiating has been pretty good. Iâ€™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 wasnâ€™t exactly legendary.
You canâ€™t say that there was a conspiracy to get this series to a Game Seven because Game Six couldnâ€™t really have been less competitive. You canâ€™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 couldnâ€™t even get better ratings than the USA-England World Cup match? These two teams are in the Finals because theyâ€™re the two best teams. And theyâ€™re going to a seventh game because theyâ€™re the two best teams and a fairly even matchup across the board. Embrace and enjoy.
Kobeâ€™s Legacy Will Be Unaffected
Kobe Bryant is one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball. Heâ€™s not THE best player of all time. Jordan was better. But heâ€™s still one of the best. Could probably make the argument that heâ€™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. Itâ€™s just not. Letâ€™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 couldnâ€™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, couldnâ€™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 Kobeâ€™s legacy is cemented and weâ€™re just trying to iron out the final details over the next couple years.
Paul Pierceâ€™s Legacy Will Be Affected
Now this may sound a little hypocritical but Paul Pierceâ€™s legacy IS affected by the outcome of tonightâ€™s game. Yes, Pierce has already accomplished a lot in the NBA and is probably a Hall of Fame player. Heâ€™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 youâ€™re remembered. Once youâ€™ve won more than one title, itâ€™s sort of just piling up the wins and accomplishments. But making that leap is huge for how youâ€™re remembered and Pierce knows that.
He wants to be remembered as one of the best Celtics of all-time and rightfully so. Heâ€™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 donâ€™t realize just how good he is. For a five-year stretch, he wasnâ€™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 youâ€™ve perused nearly 2,000 words up until this point, Iâ€™d like you to forget everything you just read. Because ultimately, it shouldnâ€™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. Donâ€™t get caught up in complaining about the officiating unless itâ€™s truly horrible. Donâ€™t let your disdain for certain players make you scream at the top of your lungs, wishing a plague upon him and his family. Donâ€™t take this game personally. Just sit back and enjoy it. Iâ€™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 weâ€™re going to see from Kobe Bryant. Think about the game weâ€™re going to see from Rondo, Ray, Pierce and KG. Doesnâ€™t that make you giddy to anticipate the show weâ€™re going to see tonight? Your adrenaline should be pumping all day.
A Game Seven in the NBA Finals hasnâ€™t happened since 2005 and before that it hadnâ€™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 weâ€™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, theyâ€™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.
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.Â 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.Â 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.
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.
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.Â 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.
Back around the turn of the millennium, the Sacramento Kings were trying to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with. While they were building an evolving squad that was trying to find the balance between a veteran bench and a growing core of really incredible players, they had a certain group of players called â€œThe Bench Mob.â€ The Bench Mob was comprised of an unusual band of brothers for Sacramento. The leaders of the mob were Jon Barry and Darrick Martin. They had Peja Stojakovic before he was Peja Stojakovic. They had scrappy guys like Lawrence Funderburke, Scot Pollard and Tony Delk. Hell, even Tyrone Corbin and Bill Wennington made an appearance from time to time.
This wasnâ€™t the best bench in the league by any means. In fact, they had a bunch of specialists and not really anything resembling a tried and true group of proven contributors. And thatâ€™s sort of why it worked. Nobody expected much out of them. Maybe they werenâ€™t going to make a good percentage of their shots. Maybe they werenâ€™t going to execute with the flair and grace of Webber, Vlade and Jason Williams. But they were probably going to outwork you no matter who you threw at them.
This Boston group of pine-sitters reminds me of the same thing. Itâ€™s not so much a Bench Mob as it is a swarm. In the fourth game of the 2010 NBA Finals, the Boston bench managed to swarm the Lakers players and hit them with a deluge of energy and effort. The Lakers couldnâ€™t help but hope for mistakes by the men in green. Rather than outwork them and exude their talents and dominance over this group, the Lakers just sort of took it. The Boston bench didnâ€™t just outplay the Lakers bench. For much of the fourth quarter, they outplayed the Lakers starters and put on a show in doing so.
â€œWe were like Shrek and Donkey.â€ â€“ Nate Robinson on the Game Four performance of Glen Davis and himself.
Itâ€™s sort of perfect that Nate Robinson made this analogy for him and his bulbous sidekick after they helped the Celtics find a fourth-quarter groove and even up the NBA Finals with a must-win in Game Four. Nate Robinson was the pesky, annoying sidekick that you expected to provide all of the comedic relief while Big Baby bruised his way through the forest, destroying everything in his path. It was entertaining and almost cartoonish.
When Big Baby grabbed his fourth offensive rebound of the game with 8:23 remaining in the fourth quarter and powered his way back up to the basket against Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, he absorbed the foul, scored the basket and unleashed an outburst of emotion and drool that makes Kevin Garnett look like Tim Duncan on horse tranquilizers. Effort, energy and heart were going to be needed to win the NBA Finals. The Game Four version of the Boston Celtics bench had it and the Lakers simply didnâ€™t.
A lineup of Nate Robinson, Ray Allen, Tony Allen, Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace played the first 9:10 of the fourth quarter against LA and left the game with an eight-point lead for the starters to play with. They survived a quick run of technical fouls by Rasheed Wallace and Nate Robinson. They survived 12 fourth quarter points from Kobe Bryant. They took control of a game in the NBA Finals, which was as close to a must-win as you can get without having a loss result in elimination.
Big Baby was fantastic. You can say that he excelled because Andrew Bynum nearly sat for the entire second half as his knee swelled up beyond belief because thatâ€™s not the entire truth. Big Baby was able to score when Bynum was out there. In fact, he scored on whomever the Lakers employed to plug up the paint. Lamar Odom was absent-minded and couldnâ€™t find the focus to put a body on Big Baby. The Large Infant bounced off Mr. Kardashian and bounced off Pau Gasol. If there was a basketball to be had or a key bucket to be scored, the oversized-undersized power forward from LSU was going to get it done.
And as good as he was in this game, itâ€™s just as important we recognize the rest of the bench players that did their part. Nate Robinson improbably played out of this world again by hitting threes, making plays and being the annoying ball of energy thatâ€™s only been replicated by the chicken hawk in Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. Tony Allen played remarkable defense against Kobe Bryant. Did he stop Kobe? Not even close. Kobe ended up with 33 points on 22 shots, which is sort of ridiculous. However, he did turn the ball over seven times and had Allen make some pretty big plays by stripping the ball and challenging jumpers.
You also canâ€™t forget the job that Rasheed Wallace did in this game. Yes, he ran around after a couple of foul calls against him and eventually earned himself a tech. It was absolutely deserved. But itâ€™s just part of the Sheed package. He plays with a fire when heâ€™s into the game and he was definitely into this game. This time the fire gave the Lakers a technical free throw that Kobe promptly missed. One minute later, Wallace hit a three-pointer from the top of the key to give the Celtics a nine-point lead that felt insurmountable. Couple that with some tough defense inside and youâ€™ve got the cherry on top of the sundae the Boston bench served up to their fans Thursday night.
This Celtics bench has been inconsistent all season long. Itâ€™s just as likely theyâ€™ll follow up this performance in Game Four with the exact same thing in Game Five to help Boston take a commanding three games to two lead in the Finals. It also wouldnâ€™t surprise me to see them come up well short of the needed effort to best the Lakers and essentially give the series to Los Angeles headed back to Hollywood.
But if theyâ€™re playing with energy, bringing the fire and brimstone from the pine and playing with such fervor and raw emotion that they canâ€™t control the saliva free-falling down out of their mouths and down their chins, I find it hard to believe the Celitcs wonâ€™t head back to Los Angeles needing to split the final two games to take hope their 18th trophy as an NBA franchise.