Banner 17: One Final Look
The parade is over, and the Celtics will be going home soon. For the last two months they have given us emotion, excitement, joy, and more than a little angst. We thought we knew who they were when the whole thing started back on April 20, but we realized rather quickly that we had so much more to learn. Through seven bizarre games with the Hawks, and another seven grueling contests with the Cavs, we wondered: How good are they really? Was the whole season just one big tease?
It wasn’t until the Detroit series when we finally began to put it together. These guys did have that special something. And then they showed everyone on the biggest stage, against Kobe and Phil and the Lakers (who, if we’re being honest with ourselves, have supplanted the Celtics as the NBA’s flagship franchise, at least in terms of marketing and TV ratings.)
Let’s take one last look back at an extraordinary spring in Boston.
Signature Game—Game 6 (Lakers series)
We start at the end. Somewhere in the middle of the third quarter when the celebration was in full swing, Jeff Howe from the Metro turned to me and said, “Have you ever seen anything like this before?” He meant the crowd, but he could have just as easily been referring to the way the Celtics had completely dominated the Lakers.
Everything was resolved in that final 48 minutes: Ray Allen’s shooting, Paul Pierce’s brilliance (10 assists), Kevin Garnett’s dominance, Rajon Rondo’s floor game, Kendrick Perkins’ toughness, and everyone on the bench who did their thing. It was absolutely perfect, and no, I’ve never seen anything like it.
Signature Moment—Kevin Garnett’s pick on Zaza Pachulia
Remember Zaza Pachulia? Nothing symbolized the dispiriting nature of that Atlanta series quite like Zaza getting up in Garnett’s face. Zaza Pachulia, Are you kidding me? If Zaza can get in KG’s head, what’s Rasheed Wallace going to do to him?
Garnett got his revenge in Game 7 when he measured Zaza for a bone-crunching screen in the backcourt. The odds of being able to pull this off are about 100,000-to-1. The only parallel in sports is a batter dropping down a bunt along the first-base line that is so perfect, he’s able to take a pitcher out. Thereafter, Jeff Van Gundy praised Garnett for taking care of business like a professional. It was the ultimate old-school move from a truly old-school player.
Best Game—Game 7 (Cleveland)
The game wasn’t even over when everyone on press row was pulling out the comparisons to Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins. Truth? The Bird-Nique duel was better, but Pierce’s showdown with LeBron James deserves its place in history. For most of the series, Pierce had been content to be a defensive player against LeBron, but in Game 5 he began to realize that he could be an offensive threat as well. This was Pierce’s moment, the game that will be the lead sentence when we write his basketball obituary.
The fact that the biggest shot of the game was turned in by none other than PJ Brown (off an assist from Eddie House, no less) should have been everyone’s clue that the Celtics were truly for real.
Speaking of the Cavaliers… In one of the strangest moments of the Finals, Brian Scalabrine decided on his own to jump up on the post-game podium to lecture the press for jumping off the bandwagon. One of the things he mentioned was how tough the Cavs were.
No one wanted to hear it at the time, not after the Celtics had needed seven games to go through Atlanta, but the Cavs were the biggest threat to a Celtics championship, and it wasn’t just LeBron. For the Celtics, playing Cleveland was like playing themselves because of the Cavs’ defense. How good were they? They made Ray Allen disappear and we all know now that Ray is far from done.
Best Comeback—Game 6 Detroit
OK, the 24-point rally against the Lakers in Game 4 was historic, but nothing symbolized the Celtics quite like this one. Down 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Celtics coolly blew the Pistons out in the Palace. Not even a wretched offensive foul call on Pierce on what should have been a four-point play could stop them. It has been written many times before, but the old Paul Pierce would have picked up a technical and sulked his way through the end. Not this time. He led the comeback, and for the first time in his tenure, the Captain moniker really made sense.
Best Crowd (non Game 6)—Game 5 (Atlanta)
To recap, the Celtics had looked bad in Atlanta. People were jumping off the bandwagon left and right, and so I had more than a little interest in what the mood would be like inside the Garden. Would they abandon ship? Would they turn on the C’s if things got off to a bad start? My questions were answered before the game even started when the crowd’s chants of “Let’s go Celtics” drowned out the cheesy Jumbotron montage that was playing.
I was never able to witness a Bruins-Montreal game in the real Garden. I never saw a live Bird and Magic game. But I imagine the crowds for those were a lot like this.
The Bad, the Ugly, the Surreal
When you play 26 playoff games, and lose 10 of them, there are bound to be things you’d like to change. Like playing Sam Cassell, for instance. There was the mind-boggling inability to win on the road, Pierce’s menacing gesture, Allen’s struggles, Doc’s struggles, Garnett’s struggles, the ref controversy, oh and Big Baby’s love of a finely manicured hand.
We had a great time bearing witness to all of it, and hopefully providing a little perspective and insight along the way. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to get some sleep.