We’re going to spend the next two weeks talking about the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, as we should. They’re headed to the most anticipated NBA Finals we’ve seen in years. But I have to shift some focus to the team that lost in last night’s Eastern Conference Finals.
It was hard to watch the Celtics in the fourth quarter last night. Yes, they made some key mistakes (having Brandon Bass play LeBron tight through the fourth quarter was Doc Rivers’ biggest coaching gaff of his career), but the game came down to the C’s just being old, out of gas, and steamrolled by a younger team. By the fourth quarter, Boston looked like Hamlet or Maximus in their final fight scenes; putting up valiant efforts but in the end only delaying their own inevitable demises.
Ironically, the longer the series went, the sadder the loss became. Many expected the series to end in five. Perhaps a sweep. Nobody gave them a shot to extend the series to seven, let alone win. But then Rondo put up 40 points and a game-seven triple double. Kevin Garnett added to his legacy by willing the team with his 20 and 10 performances. Paul Pierce dropped a game five three over LeBron that will stand as one of the most cold-blooded shots in NBA history. Ray Allen powered through painful bone spurs in his ankle. Doc Rivers motivated and out-coached Spoelstra for six of the seven games. Despite what people were saying after game five, the Celtics were not the better team, especially as banged up as they were. Instead, they just displayed legendary heart, determination and teamwork that allowed them to punch the immovable object in the face.
I wanted a Heat/Thunder Final as bad as anyone (“The Miami Heat And Oklahoma City Thunder Just Sold The NBA Finals”), but watching Boston’s refusal to die, combined with their insistence on playing basketball the right way had me on the already-packed Boston bandwagon. Their early-series valiance only gave way to age and an ending that was the basketball equivalent of taking Old Yeller behind the shed. It was hard to watch a team that worked so hard be relegated to watching younger athletes dunk and fly by them all fourth quarter. I saw a Celtic team that had endless heart, but mortal legs. As soon as LeBron flew down the paint and dunked on a Celtic team that could only look up in awe, the writing was on the wall that Boston wouldn’t have what it took, making the last five painstaking minutes almost unbearable to watch.
That’s why I have to admit I was a little choked up watching Ray Allen suffer through his post-game press conference and almost had to change the channel as Doc Rivers talked about his team’s accomplishments. I saw a group of guys at once realizing that Time and the Miami Heat were just better and they’d lose to both at the same damn time. I also felt sad for basketball as the Boston Big 3 era probably won’t be repeated for a long time.
In the era of “me-first” athletes, the Celtics were a throwback to unselfish teamwork that showed the rest of the league how basketball was supposed to be played. Three guys that spent their careers surrounded by selfishness and malaise (Pierce had Walker, Allen had Vin Baker and Glenn Robinson, and Kevin Garnett had the Minnesota Timberwolves.), wasting their primes with go-nowhere teams only to come together to give up minutes, shots and personal accolades on their way to two NBA Finals appearances and a championship. They’re the team that guys like Bill Russell, John Wooden and Red Auerbach dreamed of. Seeing a squad like that win in the 2000s was something special to watch.
Yet, last night they lost. Ray Allen is headed for surgery before probably going to another team. Kevin Garnett will either retire or be a complimentary piece to a playoff contender next year. And Paul Pierce will play a couple of more years before retiring and having his jersey hung from the rafters. In 20 years, we’ll probably look back on these years as “the LeBron years” or “the Kobe years,” but just as important was the decision by three hall of famers* to come together and play basketball the right way.
So, as an NBA fan, I just want to say thank you to the 2012 Boston Celtics.
* – If you say “well the Heat only did what the Celtics did by coming together” then you’re an idiot. I’m not wasting another word to explain why.