Feb. 19, 2009 -- The Celtics were the best team in the world. Period. Not only were they the defending Champions, they were on top of the standings with a gaudy 44-11 record. Earlier in the year they posted a 19 game winning streak. They were dominant on defense and efficient on offense. Everything was going according to plan and the word "dynasty" was starting to creep into people's minds.
Then, in the 2nd quarter of a game against the Utah Jazz the sum of all fears happened. The most valuable player on the Celtics was lost to a mysterious leg injury. He tried to make a comeback but re-injured the leg and ended up being lost for the rest of the season.
Garnett injured his right knee Feb. 19 and missed the next 13 games before returning for four and playing a total of 66 minutes, 18 seconds. With the Celtics assured of a high playoff berth, Rivers then held Garnett out with an eye toward bringing him back for the last three games of the regular season; that became the last two, then the last one, but he never made it back.
Garnett originally got hurt against the Utah Jazz, and after missing a month he returned with his playing time limited. But after four games, he aggravated the injury against Orlando while jumping for a rebound; there was no contact with any other players.
That was a painful process for fans (not to mention Kevin himself) as the team kept hinting at a return before the playoffs. The team posted a very solid record down the stretch without him (finishing 62-20) but they were visibly undermanned in the playoffs. The plucky Bulls took them to seven games, including 7 overtime periods. That series alone aged the team a couple of years.
The Celtics battled valiantly with the Magic and even had two chances to eliminate them but couldn't seal the deal. Of course the Magic went on to knock off LeBron James and the Cavs only to fall in whimpering fashion to the Lakers in the Finals.
What if Kevin Garnett didn't get hurt? Or what if they fixed the problem soon enough for him to play in the playoffs? What would have happened then?
Well, I hate to be anti-climactic, but ...umm, CHAMPIONSHIP!
LeBron was still searching for his groove back then (or rather, looking for his way out of town) and didn't have much of a supporting cast to rely on. I'd put us in the Finals for a second straight matchup with the Lakers and honestly I think you'd get similar results as 2008.
You could point to the 2009-10 regular season as a cautionary tale if you like, but I'm not buying it. That '08-09 team was on a roll of tremendous proportions. They were dominant at times the year before, but even then there was an adjustment period. By the new year of 2009, everyone was fitting in exactly where they needed to be.
Rondo was starting to become a star with over 8 assists a game. Ray Allen was happy and finding his rhythm in Doc's offense. Perkins was really getting his snarl going. Eddie House was the gun off the bench. Tony Allen was the defensive sub. Shoot, we even had 70 games of the Leon Powe - Big Baby platoon. Everything fit perfectly and they had that Championship swagger. They were going to repeat. I know it in my bones.
The question then becomes, how long could they keep it going? Would they still have struggled in the following season? Would they have shown their age as much as they did that following year? Would they have still followed through with another trip to the Finals? And if so, would they have had enough to beat the Lakers three straight years? Or am I just dreaming?
It wasn't meant to be though. That's sports for you. There are no sure things and we'll always have to live with that "What if...?"