Beat L.A.

If there are two strong memories from my high school years watching the Bird- era Boston Celtics, the first is the series in 1981 when the C’s came back from 3-1 down to beat Andrew Toney and the hated 76ers. The other was the very next year when it was clear that the hated 76ers were going to beat us to go to the Finals against the hated Lakers. The crowd at the Garden broke into a spontaneous chant of “Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!”, because they all knew that local skirmishes were one thing, but beating the Lakers was everything.

This year the Celtics have treated their fans to an unlikely turnaround of enormous proportions, climbing up from a 24 win season a year ago to 66 wins and a championship. But what makes it especially sweet for me is that they not only beat the Lakers, they obliterated them.

I was skeptical from the beginning. Paul Pierce had never impressed me. He seemed too immature to carry a team. I wondered why they traded a high draft pick for a 32 year old shooting guard with bad ankles. But when the KG trade happened, it was clear that the Celtics would be good, although no one could know how good. Even after 66 wins in the regular season there were still questions. The team had no playoff experience, and they did not impress the early rounds of the playoffs, needing 14 hard games to get rid of Atlanta and Cleveland.

The team started to show some life in the Detroit series, particularly the strong game 6, but they still seemed to play in spurts. A strong quarter or two here, then a few weak ones. And so it went into the Finals. They almost gave away a 24 point lead in game 2. They played two incredible quarters of basketball to erase a 20 point lead and humiliate the Lakers at home in game 4. But in the very same game they spotted the Lakers that lead in the first place by playing a horrible first half. Then they threw away a great opportunity to steal game 5, again spotting the Lakers big leads. They just didn’t seem to be able to put a whole game together to put the Lakers away. And, they had started to look a bit worn down from the long season and various nagging injuries to key players.

It all changed in game 6, where they played great for a whole game. It was fitting for this team in this season to play their best game of the year to clinch the championship. For once there was offense to complement that swarming hive-mind defense that made Kobe look so human. The Lakers tried to hang tough for a while, but by the middle of the second quarter the constant pressure from the Celtics combined with the euphoric energy from the crowd seemed to intimidate them to the point where they simply gave up. Pretty soon, they wilted away and the Celtics got anything they wanted. Some favorite highlights from the game:

1. KG getting a jump ball on Pau Gasol with one hand.

2. KG hanging in the air, getting mauled by Odom and the throwing it in anyway off the backboard.

3. Ray Allen hitting three pointers from all over the floor. At times he was so open that he could have done a dance number after catching the ball and before shooting it. I feel I must personally apologize to Ray Allen for all the mean things I said about him earlier in the playoffs. He truly came back from the dead. Owning Sasha Vujacic and making him sob on the Laker bench in Game 4 was icing on the cake.

4. Posey standing Kobe up one on one and then stealing the ball.

5. Rondo stealing the ball from everyone.

6. The Boston fans taunting Kobe Bryant when he went to the bench. The Boston fans performed at a high level throughout the playoffs. You could not say the same for fans in other cities. In Cleveland, the PA announcer had to prompt the crowd to chant “DE-FENSE”. In Detroit the PA announcer was perhaps the most annoying performer that I have experienced since Chris Tucker. And in LA the fans seemed almost as lost as their team. In Boston, the building sounded much like the Garden of old, except for the annoying dancers and the fireworks and light show during the player intros. Whoever made those up should be killed.

While I’m complaining, I have some raspberries to send towards the hard working TV people who do their best every night to keep me from enjoying a good basketball game.

1. Stop with the slow motion HD replays of players talking trash to themselves after a big play. I lip-read more people saying the long form of “mo-fo” than I care to count.

2. ESPN should consider hiring a studio team that actually has something interesting to say. TNT at least has Barkley, who is humorous and seems to realize that the whole studio pre-game and half-time shows are stupid, but he has fun anyway.

3. Putting a microphone on the coaches while they wheeze to their players on the bench or in the locker room is not good television. It’s boring.

4. ABC should fire whoever did their opening Finals show montage. It was a horrible mish-mash of poor Photoshop work applied to a lot of archival file footage which would have been more compelling if they just left it alone.

5. Mike Breen is the devil himself. ‘Nuff said. I like Van Gundy though. He was the only bright spot on the entire team.

6. Finally, 9pm start times and 3 hours of total run time is complete horse shit. Kids on the East Coast used to be able to watch all of the playoffs. Even the night games. It is a telling commentary on the soulless commerce of our modern age that the NBA and the TV networks are willing to basically say “fuck you” to the practically the entire East Coast so those California people, who don’t care anyway, can watch the game closer to dinner time.

To sum up, I was wrong about this team. I figured that according to various conservation laws of Playoff Experience you can’t put a team together in one year that makes a run for all the marbles and wins. But I was wrong. I was also wrong about Pierce, who has clearly matured from the somewhat petulant and out of control guy in 2002 to the clear leader of the team in the Finals here in 2008. It was a great thing to watch. It was great to see that the NBA has been resurrected back in Boston. It’s been a long time.