Notes From a Surreal Game One

1212679756About a week ago I was talking to a veteran beat guy about Ray Allen, then fighting through an epic slump. I asked if Ray-Ray was hurt. Veteran Beat Guy said no, but then added, “(Paul) Pierce is pretty banged up. But Paul likes pain.”

I was thinking about that during Pierce’s post-game press-conference where there was nary a whisper, not even from the interminably chatty foreign press, as Pierce talked in hushed tones about what he was thinking when he heard a “pop” (his word) in his knee. “Man, it can’t be over like this.”

I was still thinking about Pierce, and how he had worked for 10 long years to finally get to this place and to almost have it taken away by one wayward fall, when the cab I was in almost got smacked by an SUV going the wrong way on a very-clearly-marked one-way street. I made it home around 1 a.m. unscathed and flipped on Comcast to hear Greg Dickerson taunting usually-respectable NBA analyst Ryen Russillo. You see, Russillo picked the Lakers and the Comcast post-game show had gone from its usual Celtic belly-rubs to some kind of contrived WWE nonsense with Russillo playing the role of Roddy Piper, apparently.

Russillo then questioned the seriousness of Pierce’s injury, saying that it was the fastest wheelchair to courtside return in the NBA history. Really? Is this the way it’s going to be for the next few weeks?

It wasn’t even close to the strangest thing that happened last night.

Pulling out of Park Street, my iPod shuffled to “LA Glory,” by The Band. Is there such a thing as iPod karma?

Lobster and clam chowder are on the press menu which accounts for the Beehive-like lines that stretch around the media-area block. Curiously, while the press room is packed with anyone and everyone from Boston (the Track Girls are here, for example), the room is mostly filled with foreign press. Most U.S. newspapers have declined to staff the Finals, which everyone agrees means the entire industry is screwed. What the representatives of Europe, South America, and Asia are actually doing here besides talking on cell phones during press conferences and cutting in line for the elevator is anyone’s guess.

Waiting for the elevator I turn the corner and run right into a conversation between Bill Russell and Julius Erving. These things happen all the time at the Finals. Oh, and there’s Kareem standing next to a lovely ice sculpture featuring the Celtics and Lakers logos.

Manny and Youkilis just got in a fight in the dugout? What?

My new favorite game during timeouts is checking credentials. One local station had four guys who looked like they were auditioning for the Boston-version of Entourage sporting their affiliation. Note to the fellas: It is considered poor form to be rocking team apparel while wearing a press pass. Just sayin’.

Sam Cassell has just knocked down three second-quarter shots. My seat-mate, Tim O’Sullivan from the Concord-Monitor and I both agree this is fool’s gold. Sure enough, while Sammy is hitting a couple, Derek Fisher turns into Allen Iverson and gets to the basket at will. Trust Rondo, Doc.

Midway through the third quarter, the crowd is mostly dead. The T-shirt brigade has been out about five times already and no one wants to wave their hands in the air like they just don’t care for more free swag. They have already shown anyone who has ever played for the Patriots or Celtics on the Jumbo-tron at least twice (because we have no real celebrities, you see). It’s a nouveau-riche crowd, and it is marked by pockets of middle-aged white dudes in Kobe jerseys.

Then Pierce gets hurt. A few minutes later he comes sprinting back onto the court and the Garden is finally alive. Pierce tries to check himself back in the game without telling Doc, and when he finally does hit the floor, the Garden erupts. In a crafty veteran-coach move, Phil Jackson immediately calls a timeout, a fact he will remind us about during his press conference.

Sports Illustrated ace Ian Thomsen asks Jackson about the Pierce effect, but Jackson waves it off. “I don’t understand,” Jackson says. “Fans cheer. It’s overstated.” Then why did you call a timeout, Phil?

Doc inexplicably leaves Cassell in the game for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. The portion of the crowd that has actually seen an NBA game before starts chanting Ron-do, Ron-do.

Late in the fourth quarter, long after Lamar Odom has gone to sleep and Kobe has stopped jacking shots, it becomes obvious that the Celtics are going to win this game. It’s still a little unclear how. Yes, they had a nice 7-point edge at the free-throw line, and true, they made the Lakers shoot 33 percent in the second half, but the whole thing feels like a mid-February game.

So, this is the NBA Finals?