NBA Analysis: Giving the Boston Celtics Due Respect

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When you love sports, you bleed the colors of your team. At least I do. I watched every game during this Celtics season – through the ups and the downs. I watched as they spent the entire first half of this shortened season ruining my days and weeks with their putrid play. I watched as they looked old, out of shape and sometimes even disinterested. I watched and listened throughout the period of the trade deadline, wondering if I would ever get a chance to see the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen of old. I wondered if I would be subject to another period of rebuilding, while my favorite Celtics spent their time trying to lead another team to a championship.

Then the trade deadline passed, and I received no text messages, no angry emails, no tweets, and saw nothing on Sportscenter. Danny Ainge was going to give this team a chance – one last chance.

I then watched as the Celtics began to look like the Celtics of years ago. I watched Kevin Garnett put together one of the best stretches of play of his entire career. I watched Paul Pierce start to sink those step-back jumpers that have defined his entire career. I watched Avery Bradley begin to receive some minutes, and totally change the Celtics from mid-tier team to championship contender. Suddenly, teams did not want to play the Celtics.

I watched this team march into the playoffs as a semi-juggernaut – chosen by many as the favorite to come out of the east. Then I saw the ultimate equalizer, Father Time, begin to assert himself amongst the team.

I saw the Celtics battle a younger, faster and stronger Atlanta Hawks team to a series win…but in six games? Why? Why was Pierce suddenly looking a couple steps slower? Something was askew.

Then I saw the Celts battle the Philadelphia 76ers, who most would agree are a poor man’s version of the Miami Heat to a seven-game win. Again…why did it take seven games? Why were they having 10 and 11-point quarters? Why couldn’t they hit shots for stretches – not just stretches of minutes, but stretches of entire quarters and halves?

Then the Celtics pulled that series out, which put them on a collision course with the Miami Heat – with “King” James and “D-Wade.” For me, it was a clash of everything that is right in sports against everything that is wrong with it. I saw a battle of basketball and Hollywood. LeBron James, who went on national television to rip the hearts out of everyone in his hometown city to “take his talents to South Beach,” stood in the Celtics’ way of an improbable trip to the NBA Finals, and a chance at banner number eighteen.

They’d have to do it without Bradley, who had to go under the knife to repair his shoulder – a shoulder that popped out a handful of times during the Philadelphia series. We found out that Ray Allen had bone-spurs in BOTH ankles. We suddenly realized that other than Kevin Garnett, the team’s next most important defensive big was Ryan Hollins and Greg Stiemsma (?!).

Most analysts wrote the Celtics off. I vividly remember, after the Heat dispatched of the Pacers, Stephen A. Smith declaring that, in no uncertain terms, the Miami Heat would “steamroll” the Boston Celtics. I heard Magic Johnson, Michael Wilbon, Rick Barry and Chris Broussard all agree.

Then they didn’t. Certainly, the Heat were the better team. They definitely had the best two players on the floor at all times. They were fresher. All of their stars could play the full game without getting fatigued. Through all of that, the Celtics pushed them to the brink. After seven games of a knock-down, drag-out battle, we established our respect. The series reminded me of the first Rocky Balboa-Apollo Creed battle. Miami thought they would come in and stomp the Celtics out, but they did not.

Hypothetically, Boston was one Wade non-foul (the fist to Rondo’s head) away from ending the series in five games and waiting for Oklahoma City in the finals. The Celtics were one more good fourth quarter away from getting a chance at another banner to hang at the Garden.

It was not meant to be. Now, I’m stuck in my room looking at this computer screen, wondering why sports always decide to rip my heart out.

I’ve had this feeling before. I’ve watched my beloved Patriots lose two Super Bowls in the most stomach-punching fashion possible. Experiencing the feeling before never makes it any easier when it happens again, though. Even though I’ve got a graduate degree in Sports Psychology, the only way I can find mental solace is by putting words on this screen.

This year’s Celtics team will resonate with me as being one of my favorite teams of all time. The least I can do to show my appreciation for their season is to thank them.

Thank you Paul Pierce, the captain, the Truth. Thank you for throughout these entire playoffs, stepping onto the court at less than 100 percent, and by all accounts, on only one leg. Thank you for being less than 100 percent, but offering no excuses while you stepped up to defend the likes of Joe Johnson, Andre Iguodala and LeBron James – three of the NBA’s elite talents.

Thank you for providing me with one of the best sports moments of my year, when you stepped up to the best player in the world, to the best on-ball defender in the world and turned back the clock one last time this season as you drained a backbreaking, Game 5-clinching 3-pointer. With that shot, you proved to me that good can still prevail over evil in sports. You sacrifice scoring records, shots, minutes and commit to defense for your team instead of “taking your talents” to any place but the gym to work on your game.

Thank you to Ray Allen for stepping onto the court with two ankles that probably felt like you were playing with nails in your shoes. Thank you for continuing to battle through pain to come off screens over and over for an entire playoff series. Thank you for, on the other side of the ball, stepping up to Dwyane Wade, one of the best players in the world, and letting him know that he would have to work for every single shot he took during the series.

Thank you for being one of the great shooters of all-time – which is a reason to act entitled, but never doing so. Thank you for showing up to every press conference in a new suit, ready to answer every question with style and grace, and not in some glasses without lenses.

Thank you to Kevin Garnett, “KG” as you’re more affectionately known. Thank you for, years ago, coming to Boston and changing the culture of a losing team. Thank you for committing them to defense, to the concept of team over anything else. Thank you for making sure that after someone hit the ground, there would be three guys there to help him up. Thank you for treating every game of your career, regular season, preseason or playoffs like it’s game 7 of the NBA Finals. Thank you for cheering for second-string players like they’re playing for your life. Thank you for “Anythinggg’ssssss Posssibbbbleeeeee.” Thank you for bringing hope back to Boston.

Thank you for being different than the Miami Heat. Thank you for being a future Hall of Fame player – possibly one of the best 20 ever – and deciding not whine after every call. Thank you for getting back on defense on every play instead of toiling next to a referee while your team gives up two more transition points.

To Rajon Rondo, thank you for giving us all hope for the future. Thank you for establishing so many important values within this team. Thank you for being one of the most chippy, competitive mf’ers in the league. Thank you for letting everyone know that losing is not acceptable. Thank you for getting into the ring with LeBron and Wade and trading punches with them, but never going down. Thank you for being the most exciting player I can remember watching.

Thank you for putting up one of the greatest all-time performances in playoff history. However, the best part about your performance is that, in the days after, ESPN was not breaking down your FACIAL EXPRESSIONS and analyzing them, like they did with LeBron after his game six explosion. Why? Because you don’t get the respect you deserve…but you will. I am looking forward to see you giving everyone who follows basketball no choice but to see you as one of the best in the game.

Reality is that there’s a great possibility that Saturday night was the last time I saw Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce playing together. Chances are that KG will be back with the Celtics, while Ray Allen will be passed onto another contender, giving that team the privilege of the services of the best shooter of all-time and a role model for all young players.

With all the negatives that sports bring to my life – I spent most of my postgame time deciding whether I should try to Manny Pacquiao my door, finish the bottle of bourbon on my dresser, or just go to bed and hope that tonight was a dream – there is always one enormous upside: next year. There’s always next year. However, this year, there’s even better. There’s the chance for Miami to be beaten by a respectable team. The Oklahoma City Thunder were built through the NBA draft. Their star, Kevin Durant, announced his contract extension with his original team through 140 characters on Twitter, not through his own television special.

As I wrote on Facebook after the game, “We’re now talking about everything that’s right about ball versus everything that’s wrong about ball. Just think of Durant’s commercial – playing ball everywhere –  and then think of LeBron’s ‘taking my talents to South Beach,’ and then pledge your loyalties to basketball, not Hollywood. Let’s get Perk his second ring.”

Cheer for the quiet superstar, Kevin Durant, who spends his time in games scoring, not whining. OKC’s “Big Three” of Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden score their points the right way – changing speeds, changing directions and solid shooting, rather than a bull-rush to the rim and a whistle from a referee. In fact, LeBron James in the NBA resembles what would happen if I played against local middle-school basketball players. I have no ability to shoot or dribble, so my go-to move would be to take the ball to the basket, in a straight line, and use my size advantage to get a basket or a foul.

If you’re a Celtics fan or otherwise – basically any non-Miami Heat fan (are there even such fans that aren’t on an enormous bandwagon next to Mike Breen?), there is a RIGHT CHOICE for who should win the NBA Finals. Make the right decision. Take your talents to the OKC bandwagon.

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