1) At Last
What an amazing turnaround. What a season. What a story.
After 22 years the skies have cleared and the sun shines through. In the heavens above the stars are once again in proper alignment. It's been rags to riches and worst to first. It's the type of tale that Hollywood could make into an all-time epic film... that is if Hollywood wasn't so busy licking their wounds from getting steamrolled by the incredible resurgence of the Boston Celtics.
Without reason the Lakers came into the Finals as presumptive favorites. That did not hold. The Western Conference representatives were drowned in a great green tidal wave. In the end it was the Celtics easiest series of the playoffs. This was a thunder clap announcing the return of the Boston Celtics to the place where they once regularly resided- once again on top of the world. Once again champions.
The Finals themselves were thrilling. Every Celtic win brought with it a very special storyline:
Win #1: The image of Paul Pierce in a wheelchair. The series seemed like it was over before it really even began. The sound bite of Doc in the huddle rallying his players, saying we're the better team, we don't stop playing. Then unexpectedly Pierce bounded out of the tunnel. The crowd erupted like a volcano. You could see Banner 17 in the distance.
Win #2: Leon Powe rebounding, scoring, and just bullying the weaker Laker frontline. LA only added to the drama with a furious 4th quarter comeback. But it fell short. Banner 17 moved closer.
Win #3: After a grinding loss in Los Angeles, the Celtics came out flat while the Lakers blazed. Boston fell 24 points back. It seemed sure that the series would be tied. But Doc Rivers and his players stayed positive and mounted the greatest comeback in Finals history. Essentially the title was decided right there.
Win #4: Adding to their record setting season, Boston just shattered their opponents in the greatest blowout ever in a deciding game.
One or two of those tales would have made for a normal finals. Four makes it an instant legend that will be remembered forever.
In the last few days some stories have come out about Doc Rivers and the little things he's done to motivate his team through the season: You might have watched the Duck Boat parade Thursday. Well apparently early on, Doc rented a Duck boat and took Pierce, Allen and Garnett for a ride, telling them this is what they do for you after you win a title in Boston.
The championship banners you see in the Boston Garden are duplicates. The real ones hang in the Celtics practice facility. Apparently there was an empty space among those banners. Doc Rivers had a spotlight mounted to highlight that void. Then he had the light taped so no one could turn it off and said the light would remain on until a new banner hung there. Day after day, month after month, the light shone on the empty space. Now the banner has been won. The light can be turned off.
Early in preseason Doc introduced the word "ubuntu" to his players. In short: All for one and one for all. They took it to heart. Every man blended into the team.
Doc wouldn't touch the trophy until the Celtics won it.
All these little things added up and ultimately paid off.
(By the way, how much do you think Doc could get for the Gatorade shirt on Ebay?)
4) Regular Season
I've heard more than a few people say regular season games don't mean anything (most of that was from fans of the opposing team trying to convince themselves they could beat the Celtics in the postseason). As it turned out regular season games meant everything, especially in the early rounds of the playoffs.
Here are a few of my favorite regular season moments. They needed every one to earn what turned out to be a precious home court advantage:
Ray Allen's buzzer beater in Toronto, and his even more incredible buzzer beater after a steal in Charlotte.
Rondo dunking over Maxiell in the third regular season Detroit game.
Sweeping the first west coast trip.
Taking the Texas triangle.
Beating San Antonio and Dallas without Kevin Garnett.
But my favorite regular season moment of all was the second Detroit game when Big Baby on the court with seven all stars, took over the game. That knocked the Pistons back. Never again was Boston threatened for best overall record.
5) Never Been Done (or almost never)
24 wins to 66.
Adding players like PJ Brown and Sam Cassell so late in the season and blending them in.
Not having a fixed rotation. This one I love. Everyone has always said you need a fixed rotation, but it was a myth. The Celtics never had one. They really only had six guys -the starters and Posey- who had fixed roles. The rest of the roster was utterly fluid. Doc always said all 12 of his guys could play and all 12 of his guys were always ready, and -hey- he meant it. Guys sat for a week or two, even in the playoffs, then would bounce up rust-free and make a huge shot or grab a crucial rebound.
This alone was an eye opener.
Small ball. Criticized at every turn, a small ball lineup prevailed in the 24 point comeback.
Danny Ainge- unfairly maligned as one of the worst execs in the game for so long, orchestrated this turnaround and this championship. The funny thing is, much of the national media and basketball viewing public still can't see how he did it. They still say he was no good until this past year, not understanding he was slowly and methodically accumulating assets, positioning himself to take advantage of any opportunity that would arise.
And whoa, how he took advantage. In moves that were first bewildering and then quickly breathtaking, Ainge acquired two perfect-fit all stars, followed by just the right role players. The Celtics were transformed from lottery losers to contenders in a matter of weeks.
Wyc Grousbeck, Steve Pagliuca and the rest of the ownership group were smart, patient, and above all committed. They did what owners have to do: let the basketball guys run the show and fork over the dough. All I can say is thank you. Or actually, THANK YOU! Terrific job.
(You can go out there and proudly tell fans of other franchises: Our rich guys are better than your rich guys.)
8) 22 Years
So long in the wilderness. So much bad luck. So many bad decisions. So much tragedy. We lived in a darkened world as Darren Daye turned to Travis Knight. Larry, Kevin, and Robert retired. Reggie died. Gaston, Pitino and Wallace tried to devour the last of our pride. The team could gain no traction. Tanking proved fruitless as ping pong balls bounced the wrong way. There were small teams, slow teams, young teams, but never great teams.
Until now. Now that's all behind us. The Green is back on top.
In the Finals in Boston when we scanned the sidelines there were virtually no entertainment stars. Real stars were shown: Bill Russell returned and picked up Red Auerbach's mantle as patriarch of the franchise. Of course Tommy was there, and Jo Jo and Hondo and Walton and Max and more. Out there somewhere Cousy was watching, and I'm sure Bird, McHale, Parish, Cowens, Silas, Sam, KC and so many others were too. The living history of the Boston Celtics saw the rebirth; they saw the great and glorious green flame rekindled.
10) Banner 17
I write this last segment with moist eyes. We have all waited so long. The young ones among us have never felt this before. The Boston Celtics are back where they belong. They are champions once again.
Next year hungry teams like Los Angeles, Portland, New Orleans, Orlando and Utah will want the title. So will San Antonio, Cleveland, and Detroit. I say to them, you want the title? You know where it is. If you think you can take it, come and try.
The NBA Championship is in Boston, where it belongs.