It Shouldn’t Have Ended That Way

The 2010 NBA Finals loss to the selfish Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers was the first ever heartbreak I experienced as a sports fan. I didn’t become integrated into the New England Patriots until 2011 – Just in time for the equally dreadful Super Bowl XLVI defeat. I HATED the Patriots before 2011. But I was always a Celtics fan. A young, pessimistic me didn’t take a seat on my cozy living room chair to watch, what I didn’t know then was the swan song for the era of Lakers dominance.

Ask anyone heading into the finals, even Bostonians would tell you the 2010 matchup meant so much more to Bryant than to the Celtics. In someways the loss in 2010 was a precursor to the Patriots loss to the Eagles in the 2018 Super Bowl. We entered the final dance calm and collected, “if we win: great! If we don’t, eh. Always next year,” little did we know there wasn’t to be a next year. It’s been nearly a decade since the Celtics made it to the final round. After 2008, the Lakers returned to being the Celtics bitch like in the days of Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn. The best high-volume shooter the game’s ever seen bulldozed his way to a redemption championship the next year, then repeated himself the season after. At age 33, and with LeBron James looming in the shadows, in hindsight we were stupid for not seeing this as Kobe’s last dance, as well.

The old man Celtics that punched their way back to the finals, through an eastern conference that wasn’t deluded as it was two-years ago. The Miami Heat was the first casualty. Dwyane Wade was still in his prime, one year removed from averaging 30.2 points in the 2008-09 season off of 49.6% shooting. The Celtics took care of them in five. LeBron’s Cleveland squad was next. Many pegged the Cavaliers to stroll through the C’s en route to the much anticipated rematch of the east-finals a year ago against Orlando. After three games things were going as planned, Cavs lead Boston 2-1 and just took Game 3 at the Garden 95-124. Then something snapped in a bad way for LeBron; he shot just 34% in the final three-games as the Cavs dropped all of them, Brian Windhorst alluded to the organization is worried the pills Bron took to deal with his elbow pain was giving him depression. Things got messed up real fast is what I was saying. The improbable run bulldozed through the Magic Kingdom. Pierce shot 51.2%, averaged 24.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in possibly the best series of his career. Suddenly, the Celtics were back when nobody thought this unlikeable bunch of overpaid, aging, slow guys had a snow balls chance in Hell.

It wasn’t just “The Truth,” The 2010 playoffs birthed us “National TV Rondo.” The typical spunky little brother on the 2008 squad grew into arguably the best player on the AARP Celtics, getting the best of LeBron in a playoff series when things looked bleak during the semi-finals.

The decline of Garnett after his knee injury before the 2009 playoffs ended the hopes of repeating as champions. Garnett just wasn’t the same athlete after February of ‘09. The best player on the championship team fell to the third spot behind Pierce and Rondo. His offensive game dwindled, legs lacking the  bounce that nearly won him the MVP despite being in his early-30s.

The alternate outcomes that could have lead to Banner 18 basically go like this:

1. Ray Allen Doesn’t Croak in Game Three:
Yes. Perhaps the second greatest jump shooting guard of all-time, fresh off an 11 of 20 outing, including a record breaking 8 three-pointers, Ray-Ray followed that all-time virtuoso performance with the greatest dud of his storied career. 0-of-13. Zero shots made. In the crucial Game 4 Boston lost by just seven-points. The Celtics went on to win the next two to take a 3-2 lead, before, of course losing the final two games in Los Angeles.

Say, instead of the pendulum swinging all the way to the other side for Ray-Ray, he duplicates his outing from Game 2 making shot after shot. Alternate Reality Ray Allen shoots six-of-13, 3-of-8 from three and two free throws culminate to 27 points as the Celtics defeat Los Angeles 107-91. The Celtics go on to close the series in five-games.

2. Kendrick Perkins Doesn’t Get Hurt:
Okay. This is pretty played out, so lemme just set up the scenario. Celtics walk into the Staples Center, needing just one victory to sow this bad boy up. Things start off fine enough, then our lone reliable rebounder tears his ACL in the opening quarter then the game goes into the shitter REAL fast.

In the first six-games L.A snagged 244 rebounds to Boston’s 225; Perkins ranked first in the series (excluding Game 7) in the finals in TRB% at 15.7. In the ensuing decisive Game 7 L.A out-rebounded Boston 53-40. 8 Celtics offensive rebounds to Los Angeles’ 23.

Safe to assume the Celtics squeak out a victory, an extra title and save me a lot of misery if Perk is 100%.

3. Doc Rivers Manages His Rotations Better

Ah. This is truly the unsung reason for the Celtics crushing defeat: as the old Celtics legs waned as the game became a rock fight, the importance of young legs should have been prioritized. Glen Davis started off hot in the first quarter, knocking in six-points in the opening period. Doc went away from Davis in favor of the veteran Rasheed Wallace, who caused an awful lot of distress that season even though it didn’t look like that given his personable nature. Wallace turned back the clock slightly, finishing 5-of-11, 11 points and 8 rebounds, but fouled out with 25.7 seconds left  intentionally sending Bryant to the line.

The minutes tally went like this:
Rasheed Wallace: 35:36
Glen Davis: 20:50

If the workload was split up more evenly:
Wallace: 30:30
Davis: 25:56

An extra Davis basket changes the game dramatically. Sheed doesn’t need to internally foul Bryant if the Celtics lead L.A 79-80, as opposed to down 78-76. Davis finished the series with the best rebounding rate on the Celtics. The inability for Doc to see that playing Wallace 35-minutes wasn’t going to cut it against the younger Gasol will always perplex me. Big Baby Davis’ frame and patented strong finishes at the basket would have made the likes of Andrew Bynum pay in the post.

Now, let’s have some fun with a bonus rotational decision that surely would have won the game for Boston: Nate Robinson. Yes. Little Nate Robinson. He’s like a very poor man’s Isaiah Thomas. Robinson acted as a spark plug off the bench, doing so in Game 6 of the Orlando series and Game 4 of the Lakers series. Doc gave the three-time Slam Dunk champion just three-in-a-half minutes of Game 7, taking just 1 shots, missing it.

Robinson put up 12 solid points in Game 4, then followed that up with 4 assists off the bench in Game 5. There was something to be unlocked within the tiny leaping point guard. A jolt of life to a dying light begging to shine just once more.

Say, if Robinson takes five of Ray Allen’s 45 minutes and knocks in a couple jump shots in the third quarter (Hell, just one would have done the trick) and the Celtics win Game 7 by the score of 85-83. Is that feasible? I don’t see why not, and you better not try to convince me otherwise.

In the end: the Celtics lost out on a chance to cement themselves as the dominate team of the era. After the ‘04 Pistons crashed and won the finals, a new era of rough and tumble ball seeped all the way to the 2010s before being chased away by pace and space basketball. Throughout those six-seasons following the last Kobe/Shaq season there have been only one team to have won more than one title in that span: the San Antonio Spurs, and that’s it.

The Lakers added to themselves to that list, even with Kobe’s 6-of-24 shooting night that would have ruined his legacy if Gasol didn’t save his ass.

An extra title for the Pierce/K.G Celtics means Garnett probably has enough juice to pass Karl Malone on the list of greatest power forwards ever, behind only Duncan and McHale. Perhaps he’d be the series MVP, despite his age he was still able to garner 4 blocks in Game 7 and be the Celtics best option on offense finishing 8-of-13 for 17 points.

If Pierce bagged the extra chip it’s likely in Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball makes an argument for him being the best player from the 1998 draft, not Dirk Nowitzki. Let’s see the argument:

Dirk versus Pierce, up until 2010:
Dirk: 21,111 points, 10 All-NBA selections, 9 All-Star appearances, 1 MVP, 1-Finals Runner-up
Pierce: 19,899 points, 4 All-NBA selections, 8 All-Star appearances, 2 championships, 1 Finals MVP

Hmmm… the only way someone could make this argument is if they were unabashed homers.

In all seriousness, maybe Pierce soars above Drexler, Payton, Thurmond and Kidd to just outside of the top-40. The Artist Formally Known as Ron Artest ate Pierce’s lunch on defense the entire series. Pierce countered by locking Bryant up for the most part. However, Pierce let Meta World Peace fire off the three-pointer that ultimately served as the dagger.

If Rondo gets the Finals MVP it only further highlight his fall from grace. But he shot 45.4%, averaged 13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 7.6 assists, was the most consistent Celtic of the series. After the 2010 run the media would attach Rondo to the C’s Big 3 core, naming it “The Big Three… AND Rondo.” Maybe the shine of Rondo would consume even Paul Pierce and things would get toxic real fast. On the flip side, maybe the New Orleans Hornets are seduced by the mystic of Playoff Rondo and wish to trade Chris Paul for him.

Either way, we’ll never know. We didn’t know then, but that was the last time the Celtics  have appeared in the finals. Maybe 2018-19 will end the drought?




George Gervin Ice’s The Celtics

For the San Antonio Spurs, the 1970’s was all about coming in dreadful second year after year. Lead by the prolific scorer George Gervin, the Spurs won 191 of the 328 games they’ve played from 1976-77 and 1980-81, failing to make the finals every one of those years. The closest they came was in 1979, losing a hotly contested conference finals (back when they were in the East) to the Washington Bullets, after going up 3 games to 1, the Spurs dropped three straight to the Bullets and seemingly missed their window.

The NBA of 1980 was different than in 1978. There were two big dawgs roaming the junkyard, ready to push out the old dawgs. Moses Malone, Erving “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird gunned for the likes of Gervin and Julius Erving. If the Spurs were going to change content in this new era of fast-paced, two-way basketball, they had to get clever with how they molded their roster, and general manager Bob Bass was up for that challenge. After a pedestrian 41-41 record in 1979-80, Bass needed to overhaul the defense, which gave up a league worst 119.7 points per game, ranking 22nd. He fired Doug Moe and installed Stan Albeck as head coach. Bass didn’t want to score 120 a game and hope to God the opponent didn’t get to 121. Electing not to re-sign twenty-seven year-old Larry Kennon, Bass received two draft picks in return for the five-time All-Star as compensation, one from the Bulls themselves, the other from the league. In the 1980 draft, prior, Bass selected University of Tennessee power forward Reggie Johnson to help the defensive woes in the front court. Later, he would trade for Washington Bullets center Dave Corzine and Portland Trail Blazer two-guard Ron Brewer to help shore up the bench.

The ‘Bruise Brothers’ consisted of hard nosed big men like the aforementioned Corzine, Mark Olberding, George and Reggie Johnson, they ranked first in the league in blocks per game (7.8), and helped the Spurs defense to a more respectable seventeenth in the league. Behind Gervin’s ever reliable scoring, the Spurs finished 52-30, earning a first-round bye in the 1981 postseason. A hard-fought seven game series against Moses Malone and the Houston Rockets, the Spurs ended their Cinderella run, survive small point guard Calvin Murphy’s offensive explosion for 42-points. Behind George Gervin and his selfish backcourt mate James Silas, the Spurs survived and advanced to the Conference Finals for the first time in their heartbreaking lost to the Bullets in ‘79.

The “Iceman” was eager to carve his name into the long list of champions, years spent paying his dues have lead to this moment under the bright lights of the Boston Garden. The Spurs faced the Celtics twice in the 1980-81 season, losing both times, one of those games ended in a unlikely Gervin – Robert Parish duel, Iceman finished with 40 points, the center rallied up 49 in the close Celtics win.

There wasn’t a more star studded cast of players in the East outside of the Celtics. Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Cedric Maxwell, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, the ‘81 Celtics could kill you in a variety of ways. The Spurs, on the other hand, in a defensive oriented league, had to hold together their core with duck tape. How were they ever going to stop the leaner, meaner Celtics? Why, George Gervin, of course. Twenty-nine points to open up the series, followed by thirty-six, then forty-one in Game 3 at San Antonio. Finally, Bill Fitch decided to double-team the electric two-guard. Fitch should thank his lucky stars the series was only 2-1 in favor of San Antonio.

Stan Albeck raised eyebrows around San Antonio shorting the playing time of point guard James Silas, a unselfish veteran that perfectly fit the shoot-first guard Gervin. Silas was benched in favor of 22-year-old Johnny Moore, who shot a respectable 47.9% from the field off of 6.3 attempts per game; Silas shoots 47.7% on 13.3 attempts per game. Still, Moore was a skilled passer and better fit the defensive identity Albeck was going for, Moore averaging 1.5 steals a game, to Silas’s 0.7.

For Boston, Bird struggles forced the veteran forward Cedric Maxwell to pick up the slack on offense. The task with guarding Gervin on one end of the floor drained the second-year pro from Indiana State of his energy. “Just when you think you’ve got him where you want him, he rises above you and drains a jump shot without breaking a sweat.” Bird said after Game 2. Fitch adjusted, placing Bird on the offensively challenged Olberding, and placing twenty-five-year-old Gerald Henderson on Gervin, after veteran guard Chris Ford fell to injury. The change proved unsuccessful, Gervin still thrived as the finesse of the San Antonio Spurs backcourt proved too much for the grisly Celtics to overcome. The series ended in six, a rowdy Spurs crowd charges the court, mobbing hero George Gervin after a 51-point performance to close the series out.

“I told you Ice had them on the run!” George howls to reporters on the way to the locker room to get a the traditional championship champagne shower. “They didn’t want any part of Ice!” Gervin waited a long time for the chance to redeem himself for his past failures, he relished pointing out which reporter doubted him and his abilities to take a team to the next level. Gervin’s line was what you’d expect out of a All-NBA First Team player, 28.5 points on a cool 49% shooting, while the rebound and assists were low, the Spurs didn’t need Gervin to do anymore than he was comfortable with.

Bob Bass graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, credited as the man who “Saved the Spurs”, a moniker that bothered Gervin as it did others on the Spurs. But Bass was a courteous fellow, throwing water on the smoke before it became a fire. “It all starts with Gervin” he said proudly. “A GM is only so lucky to walk into a situation with a cornerstone like George already in house. Corzine, the Johnson Boys anchored our defense and helped us get passed the Malone’s of the world. That’s no easy feat.”

 

 

What-If Larry Bird Retired In 1988?

Written By: Vinny @sailboatstudios

 

It’s difficult to understand how great someone from the past really was, especially when you’ve never experienced them firsthand. This probably explains why so many people think LeBron is the greatest player ever. All under twenty-five-year olds have of Michael Jordan is YouTube clips, full games the lack the sense of mystery because the viewer knows how it ends. The cold hard numbers help the narrative that even Kobe Bryant is superior; the numbers don’t tell you Jordan took a sabbatical and missed 99 games. All I’m left with of Larry Joe Bird is the statistics, stories and grainy old footage. We label the 1980s as an overrated era of slow, rugby style basketball that couldn’t possibly work today. The past epic duels between Bird and Dominique, Dr. J, M.J, and Magic are forgotten. By the late-1980s Bird’s status grew to the popularity of where Tom Brady is right now. If there was a stat to describe how many times an athlete came through in the clutch, when fans knew they would, Bird would lead the league.

While the era of Brady lives on, Bird it hung up prematurely at the age of thirty-one. 31. Thirty-one. Reminiscent  of Red Auerbach did before the 1965-66 season Bird announced he was giving the rest of the league “one more” shot at knocking him down. Except Auerbach himself did everything short of getting on his knees to beg Larry not to keep true to his word. Camping out of Bird’s estate in French Lick, Indiana, it wasn’t until September when Red saw Bird laying down gravel in his mother’s driveway did he come to grips with the reality: Bird’s back been giving him trouble since 1985, and it would only get worse from here.

It’s alright, Larry.” He told him. “At Least we still have Lenny.”

And just like that the face of the franchise changed from this skinny gent “The Hick from French Lick” to a physical specimen from Maryland that rivaled Jordan in ego and competitive drive. “If it wasn’t for Bias, I wouldn’t have retired after ‘88.” Bird said in an interview with columnist Bill Simmons.

“What?” He didn’t believe it.

“We’ve just won the title, I finished second in the MVP vote to Jordan… I still felt like I had some good years left in the tank. But I knew the Celtics were in good hands. Lenny was someone I liked the moment I first saw him.

The change was drastic and threw fans into a loop. Fans were expected to toss away their black Converse sneaks in favor of a sleek black, white stripe shoes. Outside of New England the transition was easy; within the area they didn’t know how to feel. The sad era of fans thinking the NBA was “too black” wasn’t a distant memory. When Bird became the coach in 1990, fans chanted “Larry Larry Larry” after every win, Bird could’ve personally told them to stop and they wouldn’t.

Bias eventually won the younger generation over in the early 1990s, out-dueling M.J in the 1990 Semi-Final. Bias was Kawhi Leonard before Kawhi was a twinkle in his father’s eye. Locking up the scoring champ in Game 7, holding him down to sixteen points, five turnovers. “It was the worse game i’ve ever played.” Jordan would confess. Behind the lockdown perimeter defense of Bias and outside shooting of UConn shooting guard Reggie Lewis, the Celtics snuck into the NBA Finals, where they would bow out to the Portland Trailblazers. The team labeled “too old” and simultaneously “too young” the Celtics surprised many, Bias proved his worth as a successor to the legacy of Bird.

How could you not sympathize with the Danny White of the NBA? No matter how well Bias did, he was a mere mortal compared to Bird’s Staubach. Maybe a championship would’ve helped him escape the shadow of The Legend. But basketball is a team sport. The fossilizing of Kevin McHale; Auerbach’s inability to replace the greatest post player in NBA history, passing on Shawn Kemp for Michael Smith in the crucial 1989 NBA Draft set Bias up for failure. Coach Larry Bird tried to get around the aging Kevin’s mcHale by experimenting with the 6’5 Kevin Gamble at the power forward spot, but when playoff time rolled around he went back to the traditional lineup that couldn’t keep up with the speed of the Bulls.

It wasn’t until the death of Reggie Lewis in June of 1993 did fans learn to appreciate the talent before them, realizing how good they got it. Bravely the twenty-nine-year old Bias lead the Celtics through the despair, leading the undermanned Celtics passed the Hornets and heavily favored Knicks en route to a gallant defeat at the hands of Jordan. And thus, the book closed on the Bias era in Boston, fans didn’t know it then.

Three Eastern Conference appearance, two-time runner-up, five Atlantic division titles, getting the best of the GOAT twice(!) in the playoffs. It wasn’t enough. He was Superboy taking over for Superman. Any other team Bias would’ve been revered. But not here, where all that matters is bringing home the Larry O’Brien trophy every year.