It is game 7. All out. All game. 48 minutes at full bore.
I guess I, more than anyone, should have understood this season. Be careful what you wish for.
My very first article on Celtics blog dealt with the idea of pacing and peaking. To wit – did the Celtics run too hard last year and peak too soon? Most of the time, I wasn’t sure I believed it. But on Tuesdays and Thursdays, it looked like they did to me. I knew it would draw fire. It did.
Other Celtic writers had intimated that possibility as well. In pre-season, Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett all stepped on that idea like they were extinguishing a cigarette with their foot. They reacted as if that idea came from Mars. This team does not pace itself. Period.
Lo and behold…the 2009-10 season saw a changed approach by the players and Doc Rivers admitted later in the season, that it was necessary to get this team healthy in time for when it counts. It turned out to be a good thing that it did. I guess I asked for it. The playoffs saw the payoffs.
But don’t ask me if I enjoyed seeing that happen. Painful, frustrating, and bewildering at times. And understand… by pacing, I don’t mean that they didn’t play hard. They did, most of them…most of the time, anyway.
Arriving on Destiny’s Doorstep
The Celtics are playing game 7 in the Finals this evening after saving their energy this season in order to destroy the cream of the league on their way to this very game. What a shockingly good thought. I let that roll around and fire up a few neurological synapses in my cranium for a while. Just incredible…really.
What was considered heretical, even nonsensical, became a reality for this aging Celtic team since Dec 25. They did pace themselves and they are peaking at exactly the right time. They did not waste a single game by peaking too early. They waited until the playoffs started.
They rumbled, creaked, and fought right up to the playoffs’ starting line. Then they took off like a….championship team. Talk about cutting things close. Sheesh.
A nervous fan base and skeptical pundits were pretty sure you can not do things that way. You do not ‘open from the bottom’, read the back of the book first, pull that tag off of mattresses, or save yourself for the playoffs. The Celtics said, ‘Yes, we will.’ And they did.
Crashing the Party
They are the party crashers. The uninvited. The defiant ones. While the national media fawned over Kobe, LeBron, and even Dwight, the surly, sinister Celtics simmered. They were mad at the media. They were mad at booing fans. They were mad at each other. Doc had to turn the heat down so this Celtic stew would slowly steep and come together in late April.
Then Thursday June 3rd, there was a knock on the door at Staples Center. Kobe and Phil pulled back the curtain and looked out the window. They were a little perplexed. That doesn't look like Lebron. Guess who was standing there?
The pacing is over for fans waiting for Gang Green to get it together. The pacing and rationing of minutes is done for Doc Rivers and his starters. It will be 48 minutes of all out adrenaline by both teams. It is game 7. Every possession is magnified. Bench players will have short leashes.
There is so much riding on this game, it is incredible. No hype needed. Putting it in writing can be easy, yet difficult. Three Hall of Fame player’s legacies get a huge boost or knock on this single game. They either take their resumes up an important notch to multiple NBA title winners or possibly enter the history books as ‘one and done’ champions.
The chance that all three are back together next season is debatable. Ray Allen is an unsigned free agent. Doc Rivers may not be back. Tom Thibodeau is gone for sure. If they do all return, they lace them up next season a year older and without the tactical captain behind their defensive genius.
The Undefeated Starting 5 Has Just Been Obsoleted
Kendrick Perkin’s injury puts that mantra in the "No Longer Valid" bin. They remain undefeated and now…will have yet another ‘Incomplete’ on their report cards.
But the team must regroup around Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis. Doc has always managed to find something to motivate this team with and to hang their hat on. We will see how good they are at a little improvisation. It might be good for the soul and bad for the Lakers.
Truth be told, they are in far better shape this season with Rasheed Wallace here and Davis a year more experienced than if this happened last season. The Lakers have an injured Andrew Bynum who will try and play. Sounds like a fair trade off to me.
I expect Wallace to start in order to combat height with height. The bigger adjustment will be with the bench unit. Who plays center with them? Expect Davis to fill that role.
If Bynum proves to be ineffective and the Lakers keep Gasol in for most of game, Davis will have to guard Gasol and push him away from the hoop.
Role players could play big roles. But it will be the starters game to win or lose.
The Celtics have Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace most likely starting. Glen Davis has played well in big games before. The first 5 all have solid big shot ability and all play defense as well as anyone. Davis has had big moments.
Obviously rebounding and turnovers are big factors in this series. But the Celtics big shot makers, led by Paul Pierce, have to make shots.
I am unable to understand how the Lakers held Pierce to 13, Garnett to 12, Rondo to 10, Wallace to zero, while Ray Allen scored 19 ineffectual points. In my mind the Celtics starting 5 is/was the better team – individually and collectively – the Lakers’ defense notwithstanding. To lose – fine, but not like that.
They must prove they are better than Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Derek Fisher and Andrew Bynum or Lamar Odom. To me, they are. But they have to prove it tonight.
The Kobe Factor
Two years ago, before game 6 in Boston, a thought rippled through the back corridors of the TD Garden. ‘You don’t want to have to face Kobe Bryant in a game 7.’ They avoided that with a convincing win that night.
This year the Celtics had that same chance and muffed it badly. This year they will have to face that potential nightmare and face it down. Kobe gets his chance. The Celtics get their chance to be heartbreakers.
Doc Rivers and Phil Jackson will largely be cheerleaders of their starting fives tonight. But I hope Doc tries a few different looks if they need to.
Quantum Physics, X-factors and String Theories
The team needs a strong game from Tony Allen. Marquis Daniels on Kobe will give Ray Allen a chance to concentrate on scoring more. Brian Scalabrine has size, an outside shot, and I hope, enough tenaciousness to stay with Odom. Nate Robinson scores outside and in and has shown some big shot ability. Each team will need a bench player or two to step up and make a difference.
Most of the energy will come from the big stars, as it should. Reputations will grow and shrink before the night is over.
It is Celtics vs. Lakers. Pierce vs. Kobe. Garnett vs. Pau. Team vs. superstar. Doc vs. Phil. Rondo vs Lakers.
Except for the fans, the pacing is over. I can’t see how it could get any better than this.