The playoffs are set to start in the NFL and I couldn't help thinking of a football analogy when I was watching Ray Allen curl around screens and catching a pass from Rajon Rondo at exactly the right time in exactly the right place for knockdown jumpers. Those two have developed such perfect timing and lock-step-chemistry that they remind me of the great quarterback and wide receiver combos of the past like Montana (or Young) to Rice and Manning to Harrison.
When a quarterback and receiver at that level have that kind of chemistry, they don't need to talk or signal or even create eye contact. They just know. If the defensive back lines up one way, they know that they are going to the sideline. If the safety hedges a few steps the other way, they know they are going slant. They see the field with one set of eyes and one mind.
Its like that with Rondo and Ray. If Ray's man is fighting through picks, they curl him off a double screen and curl to the ball. If the guy cheats under the screens then Ray simply floats out to the corner for an open look. This is fundamental basketball that kids are taught in high school but I haven't seen many duos master the art and timing of it quite like Rondo and Ray have.
Most of the time Rondo takes a dribble or two at the top of the key (or in the pocket if you will) while Ray starts his route. Then Rajon starts passing the ball well before Ray has found his spot. In fact, if you freeze framed the moving bodies it looks like the pass is going to knock one of the screeners in the back of the head (just like in football slow motion plays where the ball is out of the QB's hand long before the receiver makes his cut). But in a blur of movement Ray appears out of a forest of bodies, catches at the numbers, and releases his picture perfect shot with maybe 3 inches to spare. Release, rotation, splash, ...touchdown.
And that's just where the fun begins - at least in my mind. You can go right down the line and make comparisons between our core players and gladiators of the grid-iron.
If Rondo is the QB and Ray is the star wide receiver, then Paul Pierce is the workhorse star running back. He grinds out the yards and wears down the defense by getting to the line and knocking down those elbow jumpers. And every once in a while he breaks one loose for a 3 pointer. He also has to be a jack of all trades in terms of catching the ball out of the backfield (posting up) and staying in to pick up blitzes (setting screens). You don't see all that he does, but at the end of the day he's got his numbers and the team is in a position to win.
How about Kevin Garnett? To me he's a slot receiver. He's happy not taking the limelight but he's reliable in his spots - like that 18 footer just outside the lane which is open for him because of the movement of the star wide receiver (among other things). Also, sometimes he shares a look with the QB letting him know that the crease is open and the ball is hiked and thrown in practically one motion (in KG's case for an alley oop).
What about Big Baby as a tight end? Surprisingly nimble for a guy his size he fits the mold well. Then there's Shaq and Perkins who can either be offensive linemen or fullbacks depending on the situation. Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson, Von Wafer, and Luke Harangody (can't you just picture him as a Cornhusker?) might as well be special teams players -- who are important in their own way. And of course nobody draws up plays better than Doc Rivers and he has been known to use his assistant coaches like coordinators.
If you really want to stretch the analogy (and really, why not at this point?) you can make the case that this team has a defensive football image as well. Once again Shaq and Perkins are on the line and Big Baby and Paul Pierce take up space in the linebacker slots. Ray and Rondo are safeties while KG is either a shutdown corner or a quarterback eating DE.
Perhaps the most important parallel is the fact that this team is all about team and not about individuals. "We not me" is something you could hear any weekend on a football field and while many teams pay lip service to it, few live it like this team does. No wonder Bill Belichick is a fan.