There wasn’t one person who thought they had anything left. Not one. Experts. Players. Coaches. Friends. Fans. Hell, even ESPN resident Celtics backer Bill Simmons predicted them to crash and burn in the first round of this year’s NBA Playoffs.
Nobody was drinking from Boston’s kool aid any longer. The words “tired” and “age” were tossed around even more than The Smoke Monsters victims on LOST. Doc Rivers essentially gave his 2 weeks’ notice after another miserable 30 point home court loss, stating that this would be his last season on the bench and that he wanted to spend more time with his family.
In reality this could have been categorized as the proverbial “they’re all quitting, nobodies healthy, and the media is roasting me on a spit on a nightly basis,” moment and we wouldn’t have faulted Doc. Bringing a title to Boston was his job, and for all intents and purposes Doc did his job. Well ahead of the 3 year timeline in fact, that was proposed by his boss Danny Ainge the day Kevin Garnett walked through those doors on that fateful day over the summer of 2007.
However, despite the aforementioned evidence supporting a Celtic collapse just 30 days ago, a funny thing happened when the NBA playoffs began 5 weeks ago. The Celtics started to win.
It started out small, beating a Miami Heat team comprised of Dwayne Wade and a cast of characters so irrelevant that Flash might as well have been playing with Vince Vaughn’s dodge ball teammates. It was a series that despite their rapid decline the Celtics still were projected to win, and despite the obligatory Paul Pierce “collapsing on the sidelines like he had just been shot by a canon only to return to his legs and finish playing the game” and Kevin Garnett “I’m going to over compensate for my declining basketball skills by trying to appear tougher and more physically imposing than a player that’s 10 inches shorter than me,” moments, the series went as planned.
Next was the real test. The series that was supposed to validate the NBA’s chosen son, or chosen one, and extract revenge for his 2008 game 7 defeat in Boston was projected to be a blood bath. Few expected the series to last more than 5 or 6 games while a few brave souls even predicted a sweep. The question was not if the Celtics were going to lose, the questions became in how many games.
I cannot think of anything more motivating or insulting at the same time to go to the website of The Worldwide Leader in Sports to read articles and predictions about your team and see what I saw the afternoon before Game 1. 10 experts. 10 notable NBA basketball personalities. 10 opinions on the outcome of this series. Not one had the Celtics winning. In fact only 1 prediction had the series going more than 6 games (shout out to Tim Legler La Salle University class of 88). It was lopsided, but it reflected the general national climate at the time.
Then the games were actually played. To say that Mo Williams or Antawn Jamison looked like Antoine Walker on his worst day would be an insult to Antoine Walker. I mean hey, at least he got to lose a couple million a year playing cards with Michael Jordan right? No this disappearing act was of far more biblical proportions.
As the Celtics lead ballooned to 27 points in Game 1 and reached 26 points in Game 2 people started to adjust their tune a little bit. While it was slow at first, the same arguments were being used that the national media used in 2008. Lebron is great, but this is a game won by playing defense and getting your teammates involved. Lebron didn’t so this and all Thunderdome hatred aside (you have to read my first column) he quit on the team about halfway through Game 5.
A little less than a week later Lebron would be sitting at a podium in Boston wondering exactly what went wrong as he fielded questions from the media about his team and his future. But the answer to this riddle is not a shocking revelation; it is as clear as night and day if you’re from Boston. UNBUNTU.
An African proverb coined by Kevin Garnett during training camp in the fall of 2007 the term refers to the concept of the teams greater good trumping any egos or individual goals which may weight a group down. The league rarely sees such a concept hold weight for the simple fact that NBA players are selfish. They cheat on their wives, they do drugs, they party, and they throw money around like Pacman Jones on a Tuesday night. It is very hard to get a group of millionaires to sacrifice their own wants and needs to win a ring, it almost never happens. In 2008 it happened. In 2009, it would have happened again had it not been for Kevin Garnett’s untimely injury. And in 2010 it is about to happen for a 3rd time.
Soon the Orlando Magic will be booking vacations and tee times (I’m confident Rashard Lewis set his up weeks ago) and we will be faced with the prospect of yet another Celtics Lakers NBA Finals. Everyone will be happy, ticket sales will sky rocket, and David Stern will get to buy the 250 foot yacht he’s always wanted. But in the end one thing will trump all else and ultimately determine the winner of the 2010 NBA FINALS. One word. 6 letters. Rhymes with cashew.
David Button is a regular contributor to the token sports blog and the founder of the Thunderdome Column. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org