V.19 No.22 | 6/3/2010


The Dream Match-Up: Celtics vs. Lakers

A few years ago, the Boston Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, who joined Paul Pierce to become the new Big Three. Then, the Memphis Grizzlies gave the Los Angeles Lakers Pau Gasol for a washed up No. 1 draft pick, a never-used point guard and Gasol's little brother, who hadn't seen a minute of the NBA. Basketball fans all the world over shrugged their shoulders and resigned themselves to a continued domination from two of the most storied franchises in the history of not only this game but all games.

Basketball is unique because, as of today, 60 champions have been anointed and 32 came from either the Celtics or the Lakers. That total will rise by one no matter who wins this series. While football, hockey and maybe even soccer like to pretend that there's some parity in their sports, basketball revels in this tradition of the giants facing off. Baseball is perhaps the only other sporting industry that indulges in such a ferocious manner, especially in the analogous Yankees-Red Sox match-up.

David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, said a few years ago that his dream match up for the Finals would be the Lakers versus the Lakers, but it's pretty clear that he's willing to settle for the Celtics making their way into the mix.

The Celtics have a lifetime record of 9-2 against the Lakers in the Finals, but that stat doesn't tell the whole story. It’s so much more involved, so much deeper. They've made the playoffs, become champions of the NBA, but haven't had to play each other a combined 21 times. They've controlled decades at a time—the Celtics the ’60s and the Lakers the ’80s. They've amassed superstar after superstar. And, now, again, the two most storied franchises of the NBA will play for all the marbles. The NBA Finals start on Thursday night on ABC.

V.19 No.21 | 5/27/2010
The Big Three: Kevin Garnett (5), Paul Pierce (34) and Ray Allen (20)


The Boston Celtics: Green Machine Smash

The Boston Celtics, a team merely two years removed from winning a title, were counted out this postseason. The Celts were seen as aging: Their coach was maybe making his move to retirement; their star players were either considered too old to make any more serious contributions (Kevin Garnett), or a bad fit for this team (Ray Allen), or just the echo of something that used to be great but now would have to fill the veteran role for a new squad (Paul Pierce).

Their second-round opponent was the Cleveland Cavaliers—they of the best record in the NBA this season, they of the MVP LeBron James. Cleveland was the most serious contender for the crown.

The Cavs-Celtics series was many things, but a coronation of King James it was not. The Celtics, miraculously peaking at exactly the right time, took out LeBron and the Cavs and turned their sights to the previously-undefeated-in-these-playoffs Orlando Magic. The Magic went to the NBA Finals last year without their star point guard Jameer Nelson playing at a high level, as he'd just come back from injury. They're equipped with the Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard. The Magic have homecourt advantage in the series, thanks to a superior record in the regular season.

Yet, somehow, again, the Celtics found a way to win.

Garnett, Allen and Pierce were joined in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals by Rajon Rondo, who is in the midst of completing a serious bid for “Player most able to transform from a pellet gun to a fully automatic weapon of death in the playoffs.”

They smashed the Magic in Game 1, building a 20-point lead and looking like the Incredible Hulk showing up to battle the local middle-school bully. The finished up by four, and won 92-88. Game 2 was closer but ultimately got the same result: a Celtics win. The Magic are now heading to Boston to play on Team Green's home floor, down in a best of seven series 2-0.

Not only have the Celtics found a way to win, but they've been doing so (other than the pretty close, but never truly in doubt Game 2 of the ECF) in dominating fashion. It's much akin to the last player off the bench somehow coming into the game and turning in a virtuoso performance—and then doing the same thing for the next five games in a row.

This Celtics team, which no one gave much credit at all to, looks primed to ride its hot hand into the NBA Finals, where they will either meet the upstart Phoenix Suns and their point guard extraordinaire, Steve Nash, or set up a rematch of the public's most beloved series in basketball: the Los Angeles Lakers versus the Boston Celtics. This in no way counts out the Orlando Magic, who have some serious heft on their side. But it should serve at least as a mea culpa from at least one writer who didn't take the Celtics seriously enough.

Like Bruce Banner, this team is playing very, very angry ball right now. And they seem to be getting better.

V.19 No.18 | 5/6/2010


Was it LeBron’s Elbow?

Kinda Like a Big Deal

The biggest story of the sports week is the disappointing and completely unexpected performance of a once-thought-of-as-invincible juggernaut. Nope, not Shane Mosley— plenty of doubters called out an accurate prediction of the fight before it went down, and almost everyone seemed to be able to look back in hindsight and say they saw it coming. On the other hand, the utter and complete collapse of the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Boston Celtics on Monday night was a genuine shock to the system.

Although plenty of prognosticators called for an extended series, the consensus was the Cavs would be the team doing the pushing, and they'd be the ones who ultimately were going to lose some games, (as opposed to the Celtics winning a handful). The root of the debacle is anyone's guess. (Except for the theories about LeBron James’ elbow. I just can't believe that it's giving him that much trouble.)

The various things being blamed, in no particular order: LeBron’s MVP ceremony, the Cavs feeling entitled to win the game, LeBron sleeping through the first half, the disappearance of Mo Williams or, interestingly enough, the fact that the Celtics are only two years removed from winning a championship and play a brand of playoff basketball that not many other teams have historically been able to match, much less this season, this Cavaliers team.

For anyone who's truly shocked, though, have no fear: The Celtics have been beyond atrocious at home this year (where they were previously nigh indestructible) and are almost assured to take a split at the Garden—worst-case scenario for Boston fans.