Celtics Run LeBron Out of Town
Larry Bird isn't walking through those doors, folks, but with Kevin Garnett around the Celtics faithful feel just fine these days.
After a transition dunk by the Big Ticket midway through the fourth quarter that caused me and the rest of my writing brethren to tweet that Thursday's deciding Game 6 was over, I couldn't help but feel a warm sense of satisfaction for the boys in green. That's probably because I spent most of the year questioning their heart. And I wasn't the only one. Fans have regularly booed them to Philadelphian proportions this year, and when they lost to the Nets on Feb. 27 at home some were openly questioning if they would make the playoffs.
It seems simple now, but the Celtics are healthy. The NBA playoffs, which bring the term second season to a whole new level, have allowed the aging Big Three to punch the gas. A dosey doe against the Heat during Round 1 in which KG was afforded the luxury of a game off didn't hurt, either. Since the Celtics' last game of the regular season, they have played just 11 games in 29 days. What was a minute-count marked by heavy legs in the regular season, has become an all-out sprint to the Eastern Conference Finals. And if the Cavs, and the Mavs before them, were built for the regular season, it's easy to see now how the Celtics are built for the playoffs.
So with the LeBron's struggling to hold ranks, they gave the Chosen One a lesson in Playoff Intensity 101.
They won the 50/50 balls. They took the ball to the rack. Rajon Rondo didn't just throw his hat into the league's top PG discussion, he wore it like a sombrero as he tap danced around the pathetic defense of Mo Williams. What about LeBron's declaration that he would cover the Big Fourth? It was lost in the same bags that the King's jockstrap was packed in. Garnett might not have been the same junkyard dog he was in 2008 when the C's took the O'Brien trophy, but he repeatedly made coach Mike Brown look impotent with jumper after jumper over a non-existent Antawn Jamison (which begs the question, did the longtime rival from Washington have instructions from the beltway to sabotage the Cavs' franchise?). Ray-Ray was Ray-Ray, and while Pierce had his hands full with LeBron covering him, he proved his championship mettle in an effort that may subtract at least one Kansas tourney choke from the Jayhawks fans' memories. Rasheed Wallace? His corner three with less than five minutes remaining was good from the minute it left his hand and in one stroke he took a season of cat calls and turned them into curtain calls. Tony Allen frustrated LeBron all night, and Kendrick Perkins did his job. Even Bill Simmons had to tip his torn and faded Celtics cap in the direction of Doc Rivers, who may not be the greatest coach to walk the sidelines, but he made Mike Brown look like Charlie Brown, or better yet, the talking chalkboard that nobody could understand.
So now we're looking at a Final Four consisting of the Celtics and Magic in the East, and the Suns and Lakers in the West. And as crazy as it sounds, I can't help but coming back to the Celtics when thinking about who's gonna win it.
For the sake of discussion I'm going to assume the Lakers can make it past the Suns (which based on the Lakers' woes with Kobe Bryant's finger, Andrew Bynum's health, Lamar Odom's Kardashian problem, and Ron Artest's diminished physical tools is not a given).
And before the Celtics can dream of the Finals, they have to get through Mt. Howard. Orlando hasn't lost a game in the playoffs, but may be the most enigmatic of all of the teams given how bad they looked in doing so. During their series against the Bobcats, Dwight Howard looked anything but like an NBA champion. He committed stupid fouls, and looked completely out of touch with reality when complaining about them. He allowed the likes of Theo Ratliff, Tyson Chandler, and Nazr Mohammed, who aren't slouches defensively in fairness, get into his head, which again is not the pedigree of an NBA champ. If not for Raymond Felton's complete inability to defend Jameer Nelson, the Bobcats put up enough of a fight to put doubt into my mind about last year's Eastern Conference victors. As for the Magic's dismantling of the Hawks? Right next to Lindsay Lohan's picture in the dictionary under the word "trainwreck," there is a picture of Mike Woodson getting cussed out by Josh Smith for telling him to run back on defense. In other words, I take nothing from that series as a takeaway.
It's the classic circumstance of a Magic team that will be rested, and soft, coming off of a huge two-week layoff, and a battle tested Celtics squad that won't exactly be tired getting four days' rest before Game 1 starts. I'm going to do my matchups column shortly for both series, but Kendrick Perkins and Big Baby are ideal candidates to to slow down Howard, and there's no way in hell that Jameer Nelson is close to the factor he has been in the Magic's first two series with Rondo a step or two quicker than him.
And before I turn this into the matchups column, I might do my thoughts better justice by saying I just don't trust the Magic to play smart basketball when the pressure cooker is on, and I do trust the Celtics. And should they go on to beat the Magic, we'll be setup for David Stern's wet dream, a rematch between Boston and L.A. Will the Lakers be able to exact revenge after winning a championship against an overmatched Orlando squad the year before? Or will the Celtics spank their bottoms like they did two years prior? One thing is for certain, the cast of characters is virtually the same as two years' ago, with the exception of the downgrade (yeah I said it) from Trevor Ariza to Ron Artest.
And though Kobe Bryant re-established himself as the NBA's best player on Thursday night without picking up a basketball, I'm having a hard time convincing myself that they'll be able to pick themselves up off the ground from 2008's humiliating ass-whooping to show the Celtics what's up.
And that's a long stretch from the way I felt watching the Nets celebrate their sixth victory on the Celtics' parquet floor in February.