I would have liked to blog about game 6 of the Finals a little closer to the day it was played, but there were a few reasons I didn’t get round to that. 1) I only watched the first and last quarter of that game and didn’t watch the full game till a week later. 2) I was busy writing some stuff for Hoopcity magazine, and 3) I thought I’d let the dust settle a bit so I can reflect on the Finals as a whole and where the Celtics seventeenth championship fits in the scheme of things.
Game 6 was a rout. There’s no other way to describe it. It was the most emphatic end to a Finals series I can recall, and it fundamentally shifted the perception of the entire series. Think about it. Watching the Celtics toy with the Lakers in the last quarter, seeing guys like Eddie House, Tony Allen, Powe and Davis running the floor like the Harlem Globetrotters was downright embarrassing for the Lakers. It made you forget how closely contested most of this series was. It made you forget how close the Lakers were to going up 3-2. It made you forget how hard the Celtics busted their asses through each and every game. If Game 6 went down to the wire this Finals series would be hailed as an evenly-matched classic, and even Celtics fans would have recognised that the Lakers were just a few points away from potentially winning it all. Instead Game 6 is a blow out, people start calling it the “six-game sweep” (I’ve heard of five-game sweep, see Detroit in ‘04, but never six before), and most NBA fans are still wondering how the Lakers ever convinced us they could win.
More than anything, that is what pisses me off most about the Celtics winning the championship: not the fact that I tipped the Lakers to win it, but the fact I had the Celtics as my title-favorites through 95% of the regular season (probably more like 99.9%) and then changed my mind at the very last hurdle. This really gets to me. Since I saw the Celtics first game of the season all those months ago I’ve had a gut feel they would win the championship. You probably got that impression when I was writing all those Celtics blogs (here, here and here). When the buzzer sounded at the end of Game 6 there were two thoughts that immediately went through my mind: 1) “Man I’m so happy for KG and Pierce right now” (Ray too, but less so), and 2) “I saw this coming”. I then had to stop myself. “Wait, I thought the Lakers would win… hmmm”. I feel like the guy in high-school bragging about his hot date, telling his mates “man I so knew I was going to score with that chick, didn’t I tell you that? I told you man. I knew it ages ago. She wants me bad!”, except the night of the date you’re shitting yourself because you know she’s not gonna fall for a loser like you, that she’s way above your league, and that your latest haircut makes you look like McLovin (this analogy is by no shape or form resemblant of my adolescent youth). While the high-school kid can put his last-minute doubts down to nervousness and a stupid haircut, the educated NBA fan like myself is left a little more perturbed. Why exactly did I lose faith in the Celtics? Why did I think the Lakers were such overwhelming favorites I almost predicted a sweep?
It’s pretty obvious isn’t it? One week into the playoffs the Lakers were steamrolling the Denver Nuggets with Kobe playing out of his mind, while the Celtics were struggling to beat the Atlanta Hawks. Two weeks later the Lakers were pounding the Jazz (whom I regarded as the 4th best team behind LA, Celtics, and Spurs) while the Celtics were struggling against the Cavs. And while Boston regained some credibility by handling the Pistons in 6 games (and finally winning on the road), the Lakers dismantled the Spurs in only 5 games and Kobe stepped up his game even further. You didn’t have to be Einstein to see that the Lakers were peaking at the perfect time of the season, losing only three games through the first three rounds while the Celtics had lost eight (even after winning the title, the Celtics lost ten games this post season compared to the Lakers seven – how often does the Championship team lose more playoff games than anyone?). But along the way we lost sight of a couple of things.
Firstly, everyone was reading way too much into Boston’s inability to win on the road (me included). The fact is, at home the Celtics were pretty much invincible and playing as well as they had all season long. On the road they sucked, yes, but because they played more games at home than they did on the road their confidence never dropped to dangerous levels. They pulled out big wins at home when they needed to (notably those two game 7s), but everyone was blinded to this because they kept losing on the road. By the time they got to Detroit and stole game 3 in Auburn Hills the Lakers were already looking too irresistible to ignore. The Lakers gave no reasons for us to doubt they were title-worthy, whereas the Celtics were giving us plenty of reasons. Apart from their suckiness on the road there was Ray Allen’s horrific shooting slump, there was KG’s unwillingness to dominate against a rookie (Horford) and two old men (Big Ben, Ilgauskas), and their inability to defend perimeter players like Joe Johnson and Lebron did not bode well for a Kobe encounter. This is why I lost faith in the Celtics. It wasn’t based on one game, or one round. It was three rounds of unconvincing basketball and mounting evidence versus three rounds of flawless basketball from the Lakers.
I asked Shooba early in the 07-08 season about Boston’s championship window, following the promising acquisitions of KG and Ray. His response: “I honestly say our window is three years. This year, if we somehow manage to win it all, it would be because of the implosion of other teams who are more championship ready ie SAS, PHO… This season is about setting a foundation for what I think will be our major run at the title next season.”
I think most people agreed with that sentiment. The expectation was that it would take a year or so before the Boston team fully gelled, before three superstars could adjust their game and egos accordingly, and before Boston’s young role players would mature. Winning the title this year was an absolute bonus for this Boston team, because they will be no worse next season. The decline of KG, Pierce and Allen will be made up for by the growing experience and confidence of guys like Rondo, Powe, House and Davis. These guys, notably Powe, won entire Finals games off their own bat. Do you have any idea what that does for your confidence?
I’ve heard a lot of people say that the hunger from guys like KG and Ray Allen will fade next season, because they’ve already achieved what they strived to achieve their whole career. I disagree with those sentiments. Take KG, the emotional leader of this team. He spent most of this season huffing and puffing and basically hyperventilating for 48 minutes for every game, from the season opener right up to game 6. You think he can’t keep that up? I beg to differ. That’s KG’s nature, you don’t change that. Plus, now you’re dealing with a guy who just tore a monkey off his back the size of bigfoot. For once in KG’s career he’ll be able to just play basketball without worrying about proving the doubters, without worrying about shrinking in big games, without questioning his will to win. For the first time in KG’s career, he’ll be able to play with the arrogance of a champion, and that could be a scary prospect for the rest of the league.
You look around the East. Do you see any real threats to Boston? Barring a miracle trade by Detroit (and from following rumors in the Pistons camp, you can bet your ass there will be a big trade), the Celtics will be #1 East favorite for next season, by a long way. The Cavs will improve marginally, and the Magic, Heat and Bulls will all make big strides. But none of them can touch the Celtics. The threat will be out west. The threat will probably be the Los Angeles Lakers. But right now, who cares? If you’re a Boston fan spend the next few months just lapping it up. When they release the 2008 Championship DVD with that awesome NBA voice-over guy (you’re not the champions until you’re in a DVD with that guy) go and watch it every weekend. Go put up that Boston wallpaper I made and just stare at your computer screen (I thought my house mate would be impressed, but the first thing he said was “there’s not much Ray Allen in it”). Go up to Lakers fans and tease the hell out them. Hell, even I’ll be doing that.
What it means for LA
Lakers fans, don’t be too upset. Over the next five years I don’t think any team in the league will win more games than the Lakers. For months now I’ve been telling my friends semi-seriously that the Lakers could win 75 games next season. If Bynum is healthy and Kobe’s post-Olympics surgery has no complications, then next season LA will be ridiculously good. A couple of weeks back I wrote that every champion team needs to suffer the sting of playoff defeat, the humility of an early playoff exit. The 2008 playoffs is exactly that sting for the Lakers. After the game 6 loss I guarantee you Phil Jackson told his players “remember this feeling”. They will be the hungriest team in the league next season.
There’s been a lot of Kobe bashing since the Lakers defeat. Like a lot of people I was waiting for him to take over the series, but it never happened. What I’ve been hearing more than anything else are those annoying MJ comparisons. Yes MJ never lost a Finals, but people have selective memory if they think MJ didn’t go through what Kobe is experiencing right now. The Bulls lost to the Pistons in the 1990 Conference Finals in 7 games. Yeah it wasn’t the Finals, but the Pistons were undoubtedly the league’s best team that season, so the Eastern Finals were effectively The Finals. MJ lost a game 7, and you know what? Everyone jumped on his back. After falling to the Pistons for the third straight year everyone started to believe that the game’s greatest talent couldn’t lead his team to glory. I’m not writing all this to make excuses for Kobe, I don’t need to, it’s not like he had a terrible Finals series. All I’ll say is that true champions of the game know how to respond to adversity and how to use it as fuel. Those beatings by Detroit in the late 80s made MJ’s legacy. What happened these Finals may have a similar effect for the Mamba. We won’t know for another year. What we do know, is that I will not be making Kobe-MJ comparisons until he wins another title. That is the rule.
The 2007-2008 season is over. What started as the quest for the Spurs first back-to-back title ended with the NBA’s two most storied franchises battling it out like old times. One year ago I told myself I would savour the upcoming season for all it’s worth and that I didn’t want to let it slip me by. If you followed me along the eight-month journey that is the NBA season, you probably got the idea I was savoring every second. I hope you were too.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I now have some Alanis Morissette to go listen to.
Comment posted by
at 7/1/2008 12:54:55 AM
i so glad i didn’t change my pick for the celtics to win it all, they worried me a little bit in the first two series but other than that i was surprisingly very confident they’d win especially when they won in detroit and got past the beast lebron. paul is the backbone of this team and he was amazing most of this post season so i’m so happy he’s the finals MVP