Beat LA! Beat LA! But First…
Mere moments after the Celtics overcame a 10-point deficit and some, shall we say, creative calls from the officials to grab a place in the NBA Finals, ESPN caught up to Kevin Garnett for the obligatory How does it feel question. “Neutral,” KG said. Whether it was another instance of Garnett playing coy, or whether he really was that blasé, one thing was clear at the Palace Friday night: The moment wasn’t about Garnett. It was about Paul Pierce.
We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Pierce is one of the greatest players the Celtics have ever had. He hasn’t won the championships, and he doesn’t have the reflective post-season glory of the others, but his performances in Game 7 against the Cavs and Game 6 against the Pistons are right there with Havlicek stealing the ball and Bird vs. Wilkins.
Pierce has given this city 10 long years and seen the likes of Ricky Davis, Gerald Green, and Marcus Banks come and go. Yes, he has had his share of unfortunate moments, but while everyone was waiting for the post-Larry Bird savior, Pierce quietly claimed the role that was supposed to have gone to Len Bias, and then Reggie Lewis. Pierce has been the face of the franchise for a decade, and more than anyone associated with the Celtics, he deserves this.
That settled, here are three quick points from the big Game 6 win over Detroit:
1. Garnett took a lot of heat for passing up an open 10-footer late against the Pistons, and instead, dishing out to Rajon Rondo for an open 3-pointer that clanked off the rim. True, it wasn’t a great decision, but some perspective here: The Celtics went to Garnett four times in the first 10 possessions of the fourth quarter, and he scored six points. Even on a down shooting night, he was the biggest reason they were able to erase that 10-point deficit so quickly.
When he tries to force the issue it looks just like that: Forced.
2. It wasn’t just the bizarre offensive foul call on Pierce that seemed fishy. I watched the replay of Game 6 several times and I’m still looking for the phantom offensive foul that was whistled on PJ Brown in the third quarter. Through three quarters the Celtics had been called for 22 fouls, against only 10 for Detroit. Things balanced out in the fourth quarter, but the officiating in the playoffs has been woefully inconsistent.
3. Where does Detroit go from here? The core will likely stay the same, save for moving Jason Maxiell in for Antonio McDyess, and they will still be a factor for several more years, but their aura is gone. What was once thought of as the toughest out in the East has been revealed as a very good, but rarely great team.
Bonus: The Celtics have gone from overwhelming playoff favorites to decided underdogs against the Lakers. That’s a combination of the Celtics road problems, the Lakers’ convincing 4-1 win over the Spurs, and the presence of Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson. The Celtics didn’t handle the role of favorites very well, so maybe underdogs will suit them better. It’s a curious thing, this perception business: Last time I checked, this Lakers team hadn’t won anything either, and they have been together an even shorter amount of time than the Celtics.