My son (11 years old) has been feeling under the weather lately. Well, that’s putting it mildly. He puked seven times throughout the course of a night recently. Not fun times. Anyway, he was sitting on the couch with me Saturday afternoon and he pointed out a Celtics DVD on our shelf. It was the commemorative 2007-08 championship DVD and to my shock and shame, it was still the cellophane wrapper! I guess when I first got it, I didn’t need to watch it because I lived it and covered it. But now, I had a new generation to share it with. He has heard the names, watched the ceremonies, and all that. But he hasn’t been exposed to much of that team’s unique feel. So, this was a perfect introduction to some semi-recent history. (He didn’t have to twist my arm to watch it.)
So naturally while watching that video, I started doing that sports fan trope of comparing that team to this year’s version. There certainly are some similarities but this team is very much uniquely their own as well.
I’ll start out by pointing out the obvious. This isn’t really a fair comparison since this year’s squad hasn’t accomplished anything yet while the ‘08 team won the title (and I firmly believe could have won the next year as well).
Still, it is fun to dream and project a little shine onto this version of the Celtics.
Defense: You can’t compare these teams without starting with the defense. Both were elite squads led by Defensive Player of the Year winners (Kevin Garnett and Marcus Smart). Both could lock down teams for entire stretches of games and slow down elite offensive players.
Complete buy-in to the coach: Doc Rivers preached Ubuntu and got the star players to buy in from Day One. Ime Udoka brought the accountability and tough love approach that the players asked for. It took a little longer for this year’s team to implement the game plan, but everyone’s been on the same page since the turn of the calendar.
Offense works best when moving the ball: Rajon Rondo had a knack for spreading the ball around. Kevin Garnett was one of the most unselfish superstars you’ll ever see. One player after another bought in to making the right plays and not forcing bad shots. This year’s team figured out the ball movement largely by getting the stars to see the court better, move the ball quicker, and trust their teammates in the process.
The game has fundamentally changed: The analytics movement along with the success of the Spurs and Warriors changed the way basketball was taught. It was a rapid change that left some players obsolete and others suddenly critical. I tend to think that the 2008 team could have adapted to the current style well enough. They had the shooters, ball movers, and shot makers necessary. They probably would have to play a different brand of defense but again, they had the talent and effort necessary to play in any era.
Team building process: There’s no right or wrong way to build a team. The 2008 team was built through a couple of blockbuster trades adding veteran stars that desperately needed each other to get their first titles. This team’s core was built largely through the draft. I will point out that Danny Ainge did the bulk of the building of both teams. But Brad Stevens gets credit for putting the final touches on the roster.
Different personalities: You could argue that KG and Marcus Smart are cut from a vaguely similar cloth, but that’s not really fair. Smart is a tenacious defender, but there’s legitimately nobody on Earth like Kevin Garnett. Pierce had more swagger than Tatum but Jayson has more in his bag. Ray Allen turned into a specialist while Jaylen Brown is more well rounded. And it goes beyond the tale of the tape as well. There was different kind of way that the ‘08 team treated opponents. I think they genuinely disliked a lot of their opponents. Meanwhile, this year’s squad came up through the generation where everyone’s friends across the league. Even though I’m old school in a lot of my preferences, I’m really kind of cool with the league being a brotherhood. The more love, the better.
In the end, it is always impossible to compare two different teams, in particular ones from different eras. However, you can see echoes of that last championship team in this year’s version. And that alone is reason to smile and enjoy the rest of this ride.