Friday, June 27, 2008


That sure seems to be the most overused watchword every year come draft time, and lord knows the Celtics did their best to blow up Chad Ford's thesaurus this year. I figured I'd weight in on last night's exciting-yet-confusing Celtics draft action, although honestly I pretty much agree with everything Tim already wrote. This one was a bit of a headscratcher, although no one should question King Ainge for a while 'round these parts, particularly when it comes to milking value out of relatively low draft picks.

Suffice it to say, Danny and his gang felt the C's needed to get more athletic on the wing, and truthfully they're probably right, especially with Tony Allen's future somewhat up-in-the-air. The Giddens pick was a curious one, although Shoals over at FreeDarko loves him, which is a ringing endorsement in my book. Obviously the major knock on Giddens is character shit; anytime you see the "Lottery-type talent" followed by the inevitable "but" around your name a few too many times, you know you've burned some bridges. Giddens has done his best to convince anyone who'll listen that he's a changed man, and if he is, well, this could be a great pick. Truthfully, the Celtics actually seem like a great fit for him: Garnett surely doesn't suffer fools, and Ray Allen and especially Pierce could be great mentors for the kid. And for the record: yes, the Celtics now have two guys who have survived stabbings. Not sure what to make of this, but it's worth mentioning.

All that said, like Tim, I think the Bill Walker acquisition could be the coup de grace of the evening. Walker is possibly even a bigger question mark than Giddens, although Walker's issues are primarily physical and thus a bit more cut-and-dry. He claims the knee isn't a big deal, but suffice it to say some rather important people disagree, since it's not every day a guy of Walker's talent and skill set slips to #47. However, the guy is a freak: 6-6, 235, built like an All-Pro tight end that can jump out of the gym. What's more, he can actually play basketball: Walker isn't just a guy who lucked into an otherworldly body and freakish athleticism and has now decided to extend his open palm to an NBA team. Quite honestly, if his knee ends up not being the issue that everyone fears, it's not outside the realm of possibility that Bill Walker is better than Tony Allen right now.

As for Semih Erden, well, in the words of the great Chad Ford: "He can be a little wild on and off the court." Color me fucking excited.

No Exactly Giddy, But All Right

I have long ago learned not to doubt Danny Ainge on draft night, so I will let J.R. Giddens off lightly. J.R.'s third year projected PER is a terrible 9.16, but WoW had this kind of nice thing to say about him: "New Mexico guard J.R. Giddens destroyed weaker competition in gathering a PAWS/M of .205 in 2007, but had no games against the top 25 and posted a poor .058 in WS/M his junior year." Okay. What obviously galls us about the Giddens pick is that Chalmers and CDR were just hanging there. Both those guys are probably going to be solid pros, perhaps very good ones. It's tough to see your team bypass such obvious talent. But you can't really question Danny, he's been spot-on so many times, and we'll get to see if that's the case again.

I have no idea about Semih Erden, and it will probably stay that way for a while. But without question the highlight as a Celtics' fan last night was when the Bill Walker acquisition was announced. I mean, it's Bill Walker. On every level it makes sense with a pick so low. And yes, he may never even play in the NBA. But he could also be an All-Star some day. So I was much more enthralled by that than anything else the Celtics did last evening, and it helped make up for the potential Giddens' mishap.

Speaking of mishaps - what the fuck is up with the draft? Every year I convince myself that GMs have a slight idea what they are doing draft night - and I'm always surprised by the level of draft incompetence. Don't get me wrong - I know I sound like an ass by criticizing teams about players who haven't even played yet, but I can't help myself. I'm beginning to doubt how brilliant Sam Presti is when he uses top 5 picks on Green and Westbrook in consecutive years. Chris Wallace can be considered nothing short of a fool (as we already knew) for trading Love, Miller etc. to Minny. The Clippers are clueless as usual. Those three teams committed egregious errors in my book, but the list is much longer. Draft night is not a sound process.

I wanted to say Portland easily took away the best haul, but then Kevin Pritchard and Paul Allen did their regular thing and traded away a lot of the gold. After the Indy trade Portland momentarily had come away with Bayless, Arthur, Dorsey and Omer Asik (who is supposed to be real good in a few years). That's an incredible draft - especially saying the Blazers did not have a top ten pick. But Pritchard is like a speed freak - he trades and then trades again. So Arthur, Dorsey and Asik are all now gone. If Pritchard ever slowed down, he'd be a great GM. Because of Allen's deep coffers he doesn't have to be, though. There was plenty of other good drafting, Miami lucked out, but frankly I can't process it all right now. Too many trades, too much action. It's gonna be a hell of a Summer.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fun For The 66 Games That It Lasted

ESPN and others are reporting that the Milwaukee Bucks have traded forwards Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons to the Nets for Richard Jefferson. Thus ends the glorious Yi Jianlian era in Milwaukee... he pretty clearly never wanted to be there and now he doesn't have to be, and has even ended up in the major-media market he'd always hoped for (we'll see how that works out). The Bucks, on the other hand, get Jefferson, a nice player who'll either work nicely with Michael Redd or make him even more expendable, depending on how the winds are blowing over Lake Michigan. This will probably throw a wrench in my prediction of Joe Alexander to the Bucks at #8, but eh, screw it, nobody knows anything anyways. Actually, we do know one thing: the Nets will be terrible next year.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What a Difference a Year Makes

Last year around this time I was absolutely awash in anxiety, fixated on the draft to the point of complete distraction, wondering what in the world Mr. Ainge had up his dubious sleeve. Well, now we know, and from what I've heard it's worked out well. I heartily commend Tim for posting on the Celtics' draft options, as I'm kind of at a loss; I mean, it's been quite a while since the Celtics held the coveted last pick in the first round (seriously, think about it; all things considered, it's pretty fucking coveted). A lot of prognosticators have the C's going long-term international a la San Antonio, which makes a lot of sense considering the last team this wants is more payroll, but then again, Danny's notoriously skittish when it comes to foreign talent, so you never know. Tim mentions Chris Douglas-Roberts, and honestly I've been salivating over the thought of him dropping to #30 for a while; it probably won't happen, but he's a guy who could step in and pretty much make soon-to-be-free-agent Tony Allen expendable immediately, bless his heart. Still, I think if there's any year for the C's go international, this is it; Ainge's aversions will be overshadowed by Wyc & Co.'s desire to avoid yet another financial hit. And truthfully, it might be the right call from a talent/personnel standpoint as well.

Quick interjection, apropos of very little: Jermaine O'Neal was reportedly just traded to the Raptors, for T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, and the 17th overall pick. At extremely first glance, this deal seems like a push... O'Neal could be absolutely huge in Toronto, but as we all know the reverse could be true as well. T.J. Ford's a nice little player; not the caliber of O'Neal, although both share a fairly similar recent medical history. Basically it's a gamble for both teams, only the Pacers get Nesterovic and #17 as well because let's face it, their gamble is just a little bit bigger. A healthy O'Neal on the Raptors would mean that next year there could be five legit teams in the East, with Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, and an ever-improving Dwight Howard in Orlando being the other four. Slowly but surely, the Eastern Conference is ascending from "not-as-bad-as-everyone-thinks" status to "not-actually-that-bad-at-all" status. Some sanguine Chicagoans might argue that a certain draft pick might lift a certain bovine competitor into this mix, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

With that as a segue, Tim offered up a projected Top 10 yesterday so I figure I should do the same. Without further ado, a ten-pick Mock Draft that's more honestly improvised than a Shaq freestyle:

1. Chicago: Derrick Rose, PG, Memphis. This appears to be who the Bulls are picking, and it's honestly fine with me. I think Rose is a marquee point guard, and as Chris Paul and Deron Williams have shown, knee-jerk draft-day devaluation of guards should be passe at this point.

2. Miami: Michael Beasley, PF, Kansas State. Rumors abound that Pat Riley and the Heat want nothing to do with this kid and intend to either trade the pick or flat-out not draft him. I'd venture to call this "stupidity." Rose and Beasley are 1 and 1a in this draft, in my opinion, and to pass on B-Easy at #2 is a foolish move, regardless of circumstance. In five years passing on him at #1 might prove to be foolish as well.

3. Minnesota: O.J. Mayo, SG, USC. If you're 'Sota, I don't really see how you pick anyone else here. Not that I think Mayo is quite in the class of a Beasley or a Rose, but I do think that he's a headline player who's almost certainly the most NBA-ready dude on the board right now, and let's face it, the Timberwolves need that, because they fucking suuuuuck. Then again if you're 'Sota, McHale is your GM and Glen Taylor is your owner, so all bets are off here.

4. Seattle: Jerryd Bayless, PG(?), Arizona. A few days ago there were a boatload of rumors about the Sonics sending the #4 and Chris Wilcox to the Heat for the #2. This would put the Sonics in a position to draft Beasley and play him alongside Kevin Durant, which is insanely wonderful by any stretch of the imagination. These rumors seem to have died down, though, so I give the Sonics Bayless here, who's probably the second-best point guard prospect in the draft, even if as yet he's not really a point guard (a recurring theme, as we shall see).

5. Memphis: Kevin Love, PF, UCLA. I actually think the Grizzlies will do something horrendous here and draft Brook Lopez or something, so for the record, this is what I think they should do in this position. Kevin Love can play, and there's no one else out there who's better that doesn't already play a position that Memphis has covered.

6. New York: Russell Westbrook, PG(?), UCLA. As those who read this site regularly know, I have myself a Knicks jones. They simply fascinate me to no end.... I'm not sure how else to describe it. That said, the new, mightily improved D'Antoni-Walsh Knicks could go in a number of directions here, but I think Mike wants a point guard, and even though Westbrook isn't one yet (see above), his potential, skills and athleticism will win the day here.

7. LA Clippers: Eric Gordon, SG, Indiana. I really don't know... I mean, it's the Clippers. Gordon seems fine, and by all accounts they're looking to trade Maggette, so whatever.

8: Milwaukee: Joe Alexander, SF, West Virginia. I kind of love Joe Alexander: I saw him play quite a bit towards the end of the NCAA season and he was an absolute beast. Exactly the kind of player you see and think to yourself, "I would love to see him on [insert favorite NBA franchise here]." The problem is the other half of the season, when he was apparently inconsistent at best; the basic knock on Alexander is he's a hell of an athlete who hasn't quite figured out how to play basketball. Sometimes that works out pretty fucking well, and sometimes it doesn't. But these are the things that make the draft interesting, am I right? I mostly have Alexander here because apparently he speaks fluent Mandarin, which means that all of the Bucks' problems in finding a basketball friend for Yi Jianlian would be solved.

9. Charlotte: Brook Lopez, C, Stanford. Lopez isn't going to be a Borchardt-level bust, but I honestly don't think he deserves to go higher than this. The track record in the NBA of choosing size over talent is extremely poor, and honestly, when you look at the guys picked before him, are any of them not markedly more talented than Brook Lopez? Best case scenario: Brook Lopez gives the Bobcats a serviceable force in the middle, Okafor can finally range around at the 4 like the poor man's Garnett he's supposed to be, and everything's happy in Charlotte as the 'Cats sneak into the 8th seed. Worst case scenario: ahhh, let's just end this now.

10. New Jersey: Danilo Gallinari, Italia. Gallinari's been exhibiting quite the sack recently, apparently insisting that he be drafted by a New York team in order to best aid his impending world domination. He's probably a little off-base with that, but I imagine him slipping to the Nets given a situation where a lot of NBA teams are now a bit more scared off by foreign talent than they should be. This kid could be really good, and if he does slip to 10, Jersey should snag him. If they don't, two words (maybe three? maybe 2.5?): D.J. Augustin.

Post Parade Draft Strategy

Awash in glory, it's easy to forget the C's hold picks 30 and 60 tomorrow night. But we can bet Danny hasn't forgotten. And I'd like to believe him when he says it will be hard to find immediate help for next year with his picks. But I don't. Granted, I can't expect the Celtics to land a prolific piece tomorrow, but they should be capable of finding another Big Baby type with pick 30. I would understand if Ainge goes the overseas route and wants the prospect to stay there (Hollinger says that there are some terrific international options), but I say chances are Danny drafts like he usually does - which means excellently, with the player he selects paying immediate dividends. Ainge has proven to be a master GM, and he is at his best finding prospects. So who should we expect him to draft? I don't really know, and I don't have have stunning recommendations to make. Surely if a player drops who deserves to go considerably higher, someone like Chris Douglas-Roberts, you would expect that to be the pick. And such a player almost always ends up falling, the way Davis did last year. Like we touched upon yesterday, this year's draft does not appear as deep. But you can guarantee someone of significant value will be there at 30. The question is who.

As has become somewhat of a tradition, there is a glut of "undersized" bigs that will go lower than they deserve in the draft. This year's crop includes Richard Hendrix, Darnell Jackson, Joey Dorsey (whom WoW loves) and possibly D.J. White. Saying that the C's already have Powe and Baby, it is unlikely they would go in that direction. But one of those four might be the best available prospect at 30. Other bigs that I find appealing (and might fit more into the Celtics' scheme at 30 or 60) are Jason Thompson, Ryan Anderson and Aleks Maric.

But it seems more likely that Boston will go with a point or wingman, given the limbo status of House, Cassell and TA. If Bill Walker is healthy he could be a steal at 30, but that is a big "if". I have never seen Mike Green play, but his Hollinger score is good enough that he would probably be a good pick at either 30 or (more likely) 60. Chris Lofton is held in very high regarded by WoW, and Hollinger liked him last year. Amazingly, Lofton is not expected to be drafted, even after he revealed that he was recovering from testicular cancer last season. He would be a steal at 60, and would probably be able to partially replicate House's role immediately. I also like Pat Calathes, who seems to be a unique player because of his size and skill set.

So I don't know what Danny is going to do tomorrow night, but he usually surprises us in a good way. It will be nice to sit back and enjoy the action this year, with few worries to think of. Enjoy the evening; it's good drafting when you're the champs.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hollinger's Latest, Or: Trying To Not Be Overly Quixotic As The Draft Approaches

Hollinger's new methodology concerning the draft has all been released. Regression analysis predicting third year PER seems cooler than just a three digit number like 500 or 600, but actually I don't see it as much of an upgrade. While the new system might improve some aspects of Hollinger's draft order, it undermines the ability to see who is supposed to be very good; the calculated third year PER's of stars like Paul, Wade and Boozer do not come close to their actual output - the three digit number better indicated the eventual dominance of each year's best players. In itself this is not a big deal, but I like the old way better. It made it clear that Chris Bosh was a better prospect than Nick Collison. Anyway, enough of my griping, it's still an excellent prognosticator, better than any other draft tool I have come across. So, let's look at Hollinger's Top 15, with their projected third year PER's:

1. Michael Beasley - 19.19
2. Kevin Love - 17.80
3. Darrell Arthur - 15.82
4. Marreese Speights - 15.02
5. D.J. Augustin - 14.88
6. Derrick Rose - 14.69
7. Joe Alexander - 14.58
8. Brook Lopez - 14.21
9. Mario Chalmers - 14.03
10. Jerryd Bayless - 14.03
11. Roy Hibbert - 14.02
12. Kosta Koufos - 13.32
13. Donte Greene - 13.17
14. Darnell Jackson - 13.17
15. DeAndre Jordan - 13.17

It's really not that shocking a list (which is something I think Hollinger was looking for when he revised his data analysis.) Noticeable absences are O.J. Mayo, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, and Anthony Randolph. An argument Hollinger makes is that the popular belief of this being a draft deep in guards is fraudulent, and it is actually the bigs that will be higly regarded down the road. He may be right. Personally, I'm having a hard time getting a good read on this draft, but my suspicions are that it might not be as deep as some are saying. Hollinger's number's back this theory.

Beasley certainly looks to be the best prospect. If Miami is lucky enough to nab him at #2, they should pounce. If Chicago is smart they'd take him first. He is the one undeniable All-Star this draft has to offer. I agree with Hollinger (and WoW's) data that Kevin Love is the second best prospect. It will be interesting to see if Minnesota goes for him at #3, because as devastating a combo as Big Al and Love would make offensively, you could be looking at a defensive quagmire. If I were McHale I would probably take the risk. While Love doesn't appear to have Beasley's upside, he is an extremely safe and quality pick; words I never thought I would utter in Love's regard at the beginning of last season.

And after the Beasley-Love combo we get to what everybody wants to talk about: The Freshman Guards! The Freshman Guards! The babble over Rose, Mayo, Bayless, and Gordon (not to mention Westbrook, who might as well have been a freshman)has been endless, and it is probably undeserved hype. I will go on record (as quite a few have) in saying that I doubt Gordon and Westbrook will be noteworthy pros. Mayo has more promise, I see him as being similar to Larry Hughes; but in no way does he deserve to be picked in the top three. That leads us to the Rose/Bayless debate, where I stand in the significant minority in favoring Bayless, who is supposedly going to drop on Thursday night. Anyway, for what it's worth, here's my top ten prospects:

1. Beasley - I agree wholeheartedly with what a GM said in Chad Ford's article today - Beasley easily appears the best prospect in the draft, and people are sweating Rose way too much. When will we start to see how stupid it is to value "good character" over clearly superior talent?

2. Love - This guy will become a dominant rebounder and passer in the league for years to come. The question is whether he will be able to raise his game another notch and become a perennial All-Star. It's not as high-falutin' an idea as it sounds - Love's numbers are that good.

3. Bayless - He's been in most mock drafts' top 5 the entire year, but I feel like he is still underrated. Jerryd's Hollinger and WoW stats don't stand out, but this guy can just flat out play. Of all the hyped freshman guards, Bayless is the only one in my eyes who can potentially become a #1 scorer on a good team. I mean, offensively Bayless can basically get wherever he wants. Rose can do this too, but Bayless is under control, and seems to have more of an attack mentality. There's nothing to dislike about him offensively; his talent should alleviate concerns about whether he is a point or shooting guard. Defensively there might be issues, but Bayless could be athletic enough to make up for his average measurements and (relatively) short wingspan. All in all, I still don't feel right putting Rose ahead of him.

4. Rose - Derrick is the most hyped player in the draft, and while he has the talent to make an All-Star game or two, the inferences to Chris Paul and Deron Williams need to end. My biggest qualm with those comparisons is that Rose has not shown himself to be nearly that kind of a passer. Yes, he's incredibly explosive, but it's not clear if he knows how to harness that power fully. That makes him totally different from Paul in college (as the numbers attest.) He also is not as big as people think; Bayless is actually taller than him. Nonetheless, he's a heck of a prospect, and probably the last of the four player on this list who have the potential to turn into a big time star - although you never know.

5. Roy Hibbert - Whoa, baby. Before you switch your website, listen to my logic. Roy plays the most important position on the floor, has incredible size, solid numbers, and could become excellent defensively. Now that the potential stars are off the board, what more could you want? Plus Hibbert has all those intangibles that everybody goes ga-ga over. Make no mistake - Roy has talent, and his position predicates a slot this high. He's superior to Brook Lopez, who looks like Chris Mihm all over again.
6. Marreese Speights - A banger with great numbers (7.2 PAWS/40) deserves to be picked this high. It seems inevitable that Speights will produce a solid PER for years to come. We are looking at an underrated gem.

7. Darrell Arthur - This is a straight Hollinger pick. His WoW is negligible, and he has never really stood out when I have watched him play. But if he's ranked third on Hollinger's board he's good enough to go here.

8. Mayo - This spot seems about right for O.J. I didn't mean the Hughes analogy disparagingly - Larry used to be very good. Alas, I don't know if O.J. will ever achieve 2004 Hughes-level output. Anyway, whoever drafts him will probably be slightly disappointed down the road.

9. D.J. Augustin - At this point I'd like to say I don't know enough about Danilo Gallinari to put him on my list, but that's just ignorance on my behalf. Augustin, somewhat surprisingly, was the highest rated guard on Hollinger's list. Dude is a "pure" point, which gives him a different quality than his more hyped brethren. D.J. should be in the very least a fun player to watch. You have to be worried about him defensively blah, blah, blah.

10. Joe Alexander - Alexander has the potential to be very good because of his athleticism, so he belongs here. But it wouldn't be shocking to see him disappoint. I was more excited with the tenth spot last year - there seems to be a faster talent drop this year, with less future starters available to be picked. Still, some interesting (bench) pieces will remain through the second round. We'll examine those bits of mild intrigue later in the week, and try to figure out if any of it could work for the Celtics.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Silence Is Golden

Never forget, baby, never forget. Our blog has been particularly quiet in the post-victory haze because it should be. I mean the Celtics just won the Championship. What is there to say? Incredible. Like we always harp about, this was an unprecedented turnaround, but I am having a hard time articulating how unprecedented it was. What we witnessed in the last 13 months simply does not happen in the NBA. Anyone who says it does is lying; and while teams may now try to copy the Ainge model of success, I don't know if they'll have much luck. Danny struck while the iron was hot, and fetching together a group of superstars is hardly that easy most of the time.

So it's pretty unbelievable, and it should stay that way in our minds. But now, because we love the NBA, let's mention the draft and the accompanying crazy trade rumors. As is to be expected, you are hearing all kinds of stuff, and it's hard to know what to believe (if any of it). One thing I will say when it comes to the draft - in my opinion it's a heck of a lot smarter to listen to the statheads than the general news media covering the prospects' potential. Hollinger has updated his system (I'm not sure I like it as much) and released his rankings of this year's big men. Wages of Wins has some interesting stuff to say. And so does this guy. I'm sure we'll be talking draft as the week progresses, and it will be interesting if in the wake of the Celtics' success another team tries to go with a similar approach and shoots for the moon. As Celtics fans we are fortunate enough to say that we already landed. Incredible.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I Was Dreaming When I Wrote This

It's difficult to really make sense of what transpired last night, and it may take days, weeks, even years to wrap our heads around it. We started with this, then there was this, then this, then this, then finally this. Oh yeah, and there was a whole bunch of other shit in between. It's almost impossible to meaningfully consider the larger ramifications of all this, but suffice it to say, the Celtics are back atop the NBA and the city of Boston is a little bit richer for having known this team. The Garnett trade is now officially one of the most significant in NBA history, and could potentially alter the way basketball business is conducted for the foreseeable future. Ironically, if we knew last summer what we know now you have to wonder if Kobe would even still be a Laker, or if a team like Chicago or Phoenix might have offered a little extra something to pry him away from Kupchak and Co., secure in the knowledge that championships can indeed be won through front office coups. How's that for a counterfactual? The thing that can't be said enough about this Celtic team, though, and an element for which Ainge deserves both all of the credit and none of the credit, is the chemistry that this team has showed since day one. The Celtics came out with a championship on the line last night and played their best ball of the season, which is a truly magnificent statement. They were simply not going to allow each other to lose, and not a single player had a bad game. Everyone was who we'd always hoped they'd be, plain and simple, and this chemistry was far and away the most glaring difference in a series that was far, far more lopsided than the Celtics' 4-2 victory even suggests. It's almost hard to believe it, but last night the Celtics went out and played one of the best basketball games that has ever been played by any team in history. It will be talked about in Boston for many years to come, and it will hang like an albatross around the necks of Kobe Bryant and the entire Lakers organization for possibly just as long. When the chips were down the Celtics beat the Lakers by 39 points and systematically destroyed them in every aspect of the game.

Because he's the star of stars, there will be a great deal of ink spilled over the spectacular disappointment of Bryant over the coming weeks and months, some of it deserved and some of it simply easy fodder for lazy columnists. I personally don't really give a shit about Bryant, his fragile hopes and his even more fragile ego. I care about James Posey, Eddie House, Leon Powe, Kendrick Perkins, Big Baby Davis, and a whole bunch of other guys who will never change their jersey numbers to grab headlines or talk shit about their teammates to strangers with cameras. Probably most of all, though, I care about Paul Pierce, who last night finally and deservedly became one of the most iconic Boston athletes of his generation. Number 34 is going to the rafters and Pierce is going to Springfield: it's no longer a matter of "if" but simply "when," and I'm confident and thankful that it won't be for a while. James Posey ought never pay for a drink in this town again, but Paul Pierce just became a goddamned legend.

And so did Garnett. A day after Peter Vecsey penned a characteristically vicious screed against KG that I won't even dignify by linking to here, Garnett forever silenced the whispers that he can't get it done when it counts. Garnett played as well as he's played all season last night, and now has done pretty much everything there is to do on a basketball court, aside from winning an NCAA Championship (though we're guessing he's doing alright without that). Garnett's one of the seminal players of his generation, although that was truthfully always the case. This title merits his inclusion with the likes of Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan (and possibly no one else) in conversations surrounding the definitive players of this decade. He's an all-timer, no question.

Ray Allen will forever be the third of The Three but again, I'm sure he's fine with that. His kid's in the hospital, he gets a Deadwood-style eye-gouging in the first quarter and still scores 26 points and hits seven 3-pointers. Here's hoping young Walker Allen gets well soon so he can enjoy what his dad did last night; I'm sure he'll be a popular kid at his preschool.

And oh yeah, anyone else get the feeling Rajon Rondo's going to be playing in the All-Star game next year?

I'm not sure I've got anything left for now. Tomorrow is the parade and then things will slowly start moving back to normal, but today is special. Seventeen banners. Enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


We'll be with you tomorrow. Thanks for EVERYTHING, to EVERYONE.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Gotta Fight On

Fuck. The C's almost had it tonight, and while the outcome was not surprising, that doesn't make it any less painful. I thought it was gonna be a long night as soon as I saw Bavetta officiating, but really we can't end up making excuses like that for this loss. Let me say it sucked Pierce couldn't put this away in LA. He was downright Jordanesque tonight, as his box score would attest (38-6-8). Of course MJ probably wouldn't have gotten his pocket picked by Kobe at the end there (he would have gotten the foul call instead.) For the first time in the series Odom and Gasol were really working the inside, and although the rebounding numbers ended up about even, the Lakers seemed to have a leg up on that front the whole night. Was it because Perk wasn't around? Maybe. But also Gasol and Odom just seemed to do an exceptional job on the glass tonight, and I don't know how much Perk would have changed that. Of course only playing Leon 5 minutes doesn't help, and PJ was pretty worthless while he was in there. This is the risk you take by playing Posey at power forward - you do give up some size. But James was great tonight, the Celtics' second best player, so I don't feel like knocking him down.

Realistically I said I would be happy winning one game out in LA, and that's exactly what Boston did. On top of that, in none of these contests did they appear to be the inferior team. LA has many more problems than Boston right now. It's just you can't help but be anxious and slightly paranoid at this stage. You want it to be over, yet nothing is that easy, so you at least partially fear the worst. But let's be real - the Celtics have done nothing to shake our confidence. You have to believe if they continue to play as well as they have the last few games they will finish this thing out on Tuesday. No need to rehash, let's just see this thing through.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

One More

It's all we ask. And it's also good it only has to be one, because the C's are more than just a bit hobbled. Pierce might need surgery after the season, Rondo is iffy, and it seems like there is a good chance Perk won't play at all tomorrow. On the positive front, the Celtics have withstood injuries throughout the entire year, and there seems little reason they can't do it now. The absence of Perk means PJ Brown might start, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But unless he is having a great game hopefully PJ will not play more than 20 or so minutes. KG these days seems the best option at center - with Posey or Powe at the four. When people talk about the C's getting potentially burned by playing the perimeter-oriented Posey at power forward, they forget that Glenn can easily stick Leon on the inside in his place. So missing Perk hopefully won't be that hard of a problem.

As for the Rondo injury - we can obviously see how well Eddie has responded to extended playing time in this series, and optimistically we can expect more of the same. The Lakers will probably try to pressure the ball with House in at PG, and it will be up to the rest of the Celtics on the floor to make sure Eddie doesn't get into trouble. I think the rather constant derision of Rondo in this series (by Van Gundy etc.) is plain ridiculous - dear little Rajon had 16 assists in Game 2 and has acquitted himself quite nicely. Sure he has passed up a few shots he should have taken - but the good ultimately outweighs the bad. If House is faltering next game, Glenn should not hesitate to then play Rondo longer minutes, if his health permits.

Also the criticism of KG shrinking in this series is off-base in my mind. Yes, he hasn't played his best ball, but his defense and rebounding have been consistently outstanding, and truthfully that's the most important thing for him to do. He certainly is fortunate to have Messrs. Pierce and Allen alongside, but let's not overdo this "KG failing to come through" thing. The whole team only needs to come through once more, and that's enough.

Friday, June 13, 2008

About Last Night

There's a small arsenal of high-minded cliches making the rounds in description of last night's epic comeback: that this is the face of championship basketball; that series and seasons turn on nights like the last; that the Celtics just seem to want this thing a whole lot more than their favored counterpart. All of these observations have elements of truth, but they all obscure the real reason the Celtics won last night, which is the simple fact that they spent the last two quarters playing exactly the same way as they've played for the vast majority of this season: specifically, they played like far and away the best team in basketball. Knowing what we know now it's hard to make sense of the rationale that had many "experts" picking the Lakers to win this series in five or six games, a suggestion that's now utterly outside the realms of possibility. I'm not trying to play some sort of "nobody respected the Celtics" card here, because clearly most people did, but it should be obvious to anyone that the C's aren't up 3-1 simply because the Lakers are collapsing; they're up 3-1 because they've played like the (much) better team. The Celtics have now played the Lakers six times this season and won five--I mean, how sanguine can Phil Jax & Co. possibly feel about suddenly turning around and winning three straight, including two in Boston? Some see this as a stunning turn of events, but again we ask: is it really?

Make no mistake, last night is the clear frontrunner for "game everyone will remember" from these playoffs so far. Much like the 2004 ALCS in baseball, expect this one to be referenced by every hack announcer any time a team falls behind by a considerable margin early for at least the next 10-15 years. There's also some obligatory Finals MVP speculation going on, which is only natural since the C's are now only one win away. I don't really see how anyone besides Paul Pierce is really in the conversation, unless Ray Allen goes for 40 in the clincher or something like that. Pierce has just been tremendous, and the tale of him asking Doc to put him on Kobe last night has taken less than 12 hours to reach legendary proportions.

And what about Kobe? He's gonna get a boatload of shit if the Lakers lose this series, which is partly fair because he all but asked for this responsibility, and partly unfair because his teammates have played like callow, frightened children when the chips are down. Check out the Vujacic video below; hell, I'd yell at him too.

The Lakers' defense was terrible down the stretch, and it was clear in the fourth quarter that, despite all the spin, forced grins and fluff pieces, Kobe still doesn't trust his teammates with the ball, no matter who they are, and at this point probably never will. It's a problem, but when you watch games like last night's you wonder if it's nearly as much their problem as it is his. Through four games the Lakers don't look like a championship team and the Celtics do, and I'm not sure how anyone in LA can confidently argue that this will reverse itself over the next three games. But hey, that's why they play the games, right? God I'm pleased right now.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Yeah, We Saw It

And so did you, we imagine. We'll have more on this tomorrow because right now, we're positively speechless. Celtics up 3-1; for right now that's all any of us need to know.

The Elephant in the Room

Our little blog has been about as quiet as can be the past few days in regards to The Biggest Sideshow of the NBA Finals, namely Tim Donaghy's allegations about a whole bunch of different bowls of wrong that he claims have been taking place in Mr. Stern's league since lord knows when. I wish I could say that my silence is some sort of "consider-the-source" mega-optimistic high road, but the truth is that this shit is potentially so crazy I can't even bring myself to fully respond to it yet. Perhaps Donaghy's lying; he is, after all, a certifiable Grade-A scumbag, by all accounts worse than even a McNamee, and almost everyone who's been asked testifies to the fact that he's a twisted individual. But still, like McNamee, the most compelling (and in Stern's case, damning) part of his story is that there's not really good reason for him to make it all up. Stern's eerily Clemensian line has been that Donaghy's simply a sick fuck who's been backed into a corner and is now saying whatever he can to try and save his own ass, but the fact is that it doesn't really work that way: I mean, a scenario in which federal investigators told Donaghy he could help his own cause by implicating the entire NBA in his case just kind of rings false, don't you agree?

Anyways, the latest news in this whole clusterfuck is that at least two more ex-refs have been questioned in regards to none other than Dick Bavetta, perhaps the league's most well-known and respected official. Bavetta helped call the increasingly-infamous Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, which you may recall as the most egregiously poorly-called NBA game in recent memory (and I'm using "recent" extremely liberally here) and a game which--surprise!--Donaghy now alleges was fixed in order to ensure a Game 7. Yikes.

Like I said, I still don't even know what to make of this; it could very well go away, but if everything that Donaghy's saying is true--hell, even if some of it is--the NBA's got a scandal on its hands that makes the Mitchell Report look like a mirthful misunderstanding. Again, I recognize that none of these observations are remotely new or original, but this whole mess just seems worth acknowledging.

Validation From A Good Source

True Hoop had a good interview yesterday with Haralabos Voulgaris, considered a master gambler of the NBA. He's the kind of guy who obviously knows a hell of a lot about the league, otherwise he would have gone under years ago. Anyway, near the end of the interview we get this nugget concerning head coaches in the NBA, couldn't help but share it:

The best coach in the league (and its not even close) is Gregg Popovich. He is without peer in terms of how well he manages a game, as well as prepares his team. It's really not even close, he is just that much better than every other coach in the league. If you are ever unsure of what the correct strategy is in a certain situation, look to the Spurs. If they are doing it, it's probably the right strategy.

There are a lot of coaches who do a poor job with what I call the mathematics of the game, but to be fair, maybe they are better at other aspects of their job like motivation or player development.

However, I have a hard time believing that Doc Rivers could ever make up for his in-game strategy with his ability to motivate or develop players. I would like to have seen how the Celtics would have fared this year if they didn't hire Tom Thibodeau to install a great defensive system. If Popovich is the guy you lean to if you are unsure of what to do, Rivers is certainly the guy you look to if you want to know what NOT to do.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

50% Of Something

Well, Rajon is blogging like mad, which is probably bad, because it means he's bored and injured with nothing else to do. I am more than slightly concerned that #9's injury could severely curtail him, and if that is the case you would think it would certainly help the Lakers. The PG ballhandling problems Simmons writes about today are much worse when Rondo is not in there. That's a legit worry, everything else at this point is just your normal (possibly paranoid) concern. The Celtics look good, the superior team, after three games. Although that could change, the odds seem to be in their favor.

But you never know, obviously, particularly in light of Boston's postseason woes this year. What has been nice is that the quivering hesitancy we often saw in those first three rounds has not been apparent at all thus far in the Finals. So I'm hoping Rondo is healthy, and will now bore you with my "Lack of Leon" bitch-of-the-day. Despite only playing 15 minutes in Game 2, Powe was arguably the player of the game. He was close to unstoppable, which everybody on team seems to be able to acknowledge except Glenn. Leon had six minutes of action last night. Six. Although PJ Brown is playing almost shockingly excellent defense, and Perk has been consistently solid, you have to find room for Leon. I know the Celtics' defense was the key to almost winning last night, and Perk and Brown had plenty to do with it. But ultimately Leon is the better player. I'm not necessarily asking for 25 minutes of playing time every game, but he has to be in there for more than just six. It's good to take advantage of size mismatches, which the Celtics have done, but Leon gives you so much on the offensive end, and defensively is not bad, either. It is just ridiculous for Glenn to keep him on the pine. But hopefully it won't matter in the end.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We Let 'Em Off The Hook

I'm exhausted and don't have much to say about this one right now. However, there are indeed some things that need addressing, starting with this: it definitely seemed as though the Celtics had the Lakers in a goddamn stranglehold for a little while tonight and now it's not exactly like that, am I right? Halfway through the fourth quarter the dream of taking an insurmountable 3-0 series lead was still very much alive, and now we're kind left with table scraps, in the form of a 2-1 lead with two more games to play in LA. Some bitter scraps to swallow indeed, correct?

Well, yes... er, no... well, you see, the scraps are pretty delicious if you're a Celtics fan and inclined towards optimism. Look, the Lakers barely squeezed a win out of a game that they pretty much had to win and which Bennett Salvatore & Co. were obviously inclined to nudge towards the home team. To say that the Celtics had a subpar offensive game doesn't even begin to cover it: Garnett and Pierce combined for 19 points tonight, and for someone like Pierce--who's probably already started writing a chapter of his autobiography about eating the Lakers alive over the course of his career--it's hard to believe we'll see a repeat of tonight in Game 4.

Look, the Lakers played their hearts out in Game 3 and won, like everyone thought they would. But they only won by six points, and it took Sasha Vujacic scoring more points than Pierce and Garnett together to make it happen. While it would have been so, SO fantastic to take Game 3 and send Boston into a state of anticipatory euphoria, the fact is that very little we saw tonight should change the impression that, from what we've seen, the Celtics are the better team in this series. And for the record, I'll maintain that position regardless of what happens on Thursday.

Hilarity Ensues

I think I got about five hours of sleep last night just thinking about tonight's game and need some sort of psychic release, so please excuse this little light-hearted foray into fish-in-a-barrell media criticism. The gentleman to your left is ubiquitous Denver Post columnist Woody Paige, a man who forms a perfect synthesis of "jackass" and "blowhard," a man so camera-happy he makes Bob Ryan seem like J.D. Salinger. It's hard to know whether to entirely hate him, since he's such a perfect punching-bag for snarky sports bloggers like yours truly; in the words of Elvis Costello, I used to be disgusted, but now I try and be amused. Anyways, last week Paige wrote a much-discussed column in which he suggested, among other ridiculousness(es), his hometown Colorado Rockies trade arguably their best player, MVP runner-up Matt Holiday to the Cleveland Indians for ace C.C. Sabathia, whose contract expires at the end of this season. Both Fire Joe Morgan and Deadspin were all over this jackoffery, illustrating the oddly symbiotic relationship Paige seems to enjoy with the blogosphere. Maybe if we all just pretend he's not there he'll disappear or something... maybe...

Well, that's going to have to wait, because Woody Paige has decided to fire up his bizarro trade machine once again, and this time he's got his sites set on our beloved NBA. In a column in today's Post, Paige suggests that the Nuggets trade--get ready for this--Carmelo Anthony, Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin, and Chucky Atkins to the Pistons for Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, and the Pistons' first-round draft pick (29th overall). Before you run off to the RealGm Trade Checker to see if this insanity will actually work, allow me to unsurpise you by revealing that it doesn't. Still, just writing this column and convincing an editor to publish it is a tremendous feat: briefly leaving aside the question of whether this trade might actually benefit one or both teams, this is the sort of trade a 9-year-old would make while playing NBA Live with the CPU trade-monitoring feature disabled. I realize that rumors have been swirling for a while now about some sort of Billups/Anthony deal, but this is the Pistons trading three of their four best players after they came within two wins of reaching the Finals. I understand that after failing to win a title yet again Dumars & Co. have to at least pay lip-service to making some major changes, but Jesus Christ... this would arguably be an even bigger makeover than the Garnett trade was for the C's, only a) probably not with the same positive effects and 2) the 2007-08 Pistons won 35 more games than the 2006-07 Celtics.

Continuing to indulge the Woodman's great hypothetical, though, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this trade would be exquisitely terrible for the Pistons. In Billups, 'Sheed and Tayshaun Prince you're trading three aging-yet-durable guys (and Prince isn't even that old) with a proven track record of playing together for a youngish guy whose failure to make the leap to truly elite status is only slightly less frustrating than his penchant for off-the-court idiocy (Melo), plus two aging bigs with a disturbing history of injury problems. Oh yeah, and Chucky Atkins, because why the fuck not, right? This trade isn't that far from simply asking the Pistons to trade the core of their team for the core of the Nuggets', which seems entirely fair considering the Pistons made it to the penultimate round of the playoffs while the Nuggets saw exactly three games' worth of the postseason. I don't want to say you'll never see Melo in a Pistons uniform or Billups in powder-blue, but if you do it's not going to be like this.

One last gripe: one of the more idiotic recent insights of NBA talking/writing heads is the notion that Rodney Stuckey's "emergence" has made Billups "expendable." Granted, Stuckey's a nice player and might even end up some sort of star (I still doubt this), but judging from the coverage of Stuckey in the Eastern Conference Finals you'd think he was some hybrid of Chris Paul and Nelson Mandela. This has to be due largely to the fact that after six straight years in the Conference Finals the networks were desperate for any sort of new Pistons-related storyline, the "Rip Hamilton runs five miles a day" angle having run its course back in 2004 or whatever. Billups is getting up there in years but he's still very, very good: this past season he was 10th overall in PER (10 spots higher than Melo, for the record) and second among PGs, behind only Chris Paul. Stuckey or no Stuckey, it will take a whole hell of a lot to pry Chauncey Billups from the Pistons, as well it should.

Alright, I'm done here. Please excuse this meandering self-indulgence... God I'm nervous.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Inglorious Escape

Now that we're all feeling pretty good about last night's results and have had some time to remove the fourth-quarter panic from our minds, I think it's time to revisit the scene of what, for a few brief yet excruciating moments, threatened to inarguably become the most spectacular single-game collapse in NBA history. Allow me to preface this by assuring you that this is not a freak-out post: if anything it's the opposite, a way of putting to rest both the silly claim that LA may have finally "put it together" in the fourth quarter and the even more ludicrous notion that the Lakers now have "momentum" going into Game 3.

Truthfully it all seemed to happen so fast; I remember looking at the clock with about six minutes to go, seeing the Lakers down 18 and half-thinking to myself how improbable it would be for a team to come back from that, and then it all just sort of happened. There was a barrage of three-pointers, some incredibly careless ball movement from the Celtics, and Kobe Bryant finally remembering how to get to the foul line, where he somehow, some way, cut the lead to 2 with 38 seconds remaining. It was absolutely chilling to watch, it never should have happened, and it says here that it's not going to happen again. Here are some reasons why:

First of all, one should never underestimate the potential effectiveness of a desperation offense like the one LA was running at the end of last night. It's more or less the equivalent of one of those crazy two-minute drills in football when all of a sudden every pass is being caught, running backs are casually breaking off 15-yard runs from draw plays and the defense is playing some sort of half-assed prevent scheme that's not really about winning the game so much as simply not losing it. Never a fun thing to watch if your allegiance lies with the defensive side, and you invariably find yourself wondering how the hell this offense could possibly be doing this now when they seemed so overmatched the rest of the game. That said, the problem with the desperation offense is that, by definition, it's unsustainable. It's not a system, and in fact, it's almost an anti-system, which is one of the reasons it can be so difficult to defend: there's not really any logic to it besides to overplay the ball on defense and score at all costs on offense. The Lakers scored 41 in the fourth last night by brazenly gambling on the passing lanes and firing up 3-pointers on the break; the fact that this non-strategy happened to prove extremely effective doesn't mean that we're going to see it again, and I guarantee that Phil Jackson was hating it almost as much as the fans at the Garden. In short, don't hold your breath for another 41-point quarter from LA unless we're in a similar situation to last night, in which case any Celtics fan would probably once again like his/her chances.

Secondly--and this is at least somewhat related to the first point--Glenn Rivers probably won't let this happen twice. This is an odd thing for someone like myself to say, who's spent a healthy dose of the past several years viciously deriding Rivers' capacities as a coach, but if there's one thing that's become clear about Glenn over this playoffs it's that he does, in fact, seem to learn from his (copious) mistakes. The mistake last night--and my God, was it a huge one--was deciding to completely change his team's style of play in a game that they were in the process of winning by an embarrassing margin. Around the 8-minute mark it suddenly became apparent that the Celtics had recently been instructed to play to run out the clock, a profoundly misguided maneuver when your primary success has come from attacking on offense and a downright atrocious one when you're playing a team as potentially explosive as the Lakers. I do not understand why this happened, and honestly to start playing to hold with eight minutes left in Game 2 of the NBA Finals is flatly indefensible. I'm not saying you should pay absolutely no attention to the scoreboard, but Christ, these are the Lakers; nobody will take exception with running up the score because, as we now uncomfortably know, even a 24-point lead in the fourth quarter is not a legitimate comfort zone. All in all this was a brief and highly unpleasant flashback to earlier in the playoffs, when we often wondered if Glenn was even aware he was coaching in the postseason, so scattershot and unfocused were his decisions and tendencies.

But he's been better of late, and I guess that's the larger point: he continues to get better, and for this reason alone last night's rather disgracefully close call shouldn't happen again. I'm not going to sit here and argue that the Celtics are going to sweep the Lakers, or even that this series definitively will not return to Boston: I'm just pointing out that after two games, the Celtics have the Lakers exactly where they want them, and no one ought to think otherwise.

Grown-Ass Work

Awesome stuff, folks. I am sorry we haven't had more in-depth analysis lately, but frankly it's been nice just to sit back and enjoy these first two games, it'll all get sorted out later. This win we just saw gives great hope towards the ultimate goal being achieved. The Celtics won tonight because they were the better team, not because LA didn't show up the first three quarters, or because of poor officiating. What has been so exhilarating about the first two games of the Finals is how well the Celtics have played, and how normal it all seems when put in context of their great regular season. It would make all the more sense if they had not been so goddamn perplexing all of the playoffs prior to Game 5 against Detroit.

But here we are. And it's a wonderful feeling - even if the Celtics can scrape together just one win out on the West Coast you would think they would have the advantage. But I'm sure they are not thinking that way - they're just happy about the win and focusing on getting the next one. Tonight's contest could have easily been lost, which might seem scary but probably shouldn't be. Yes, LA scored 41 in the fourth and was in a position to win a game they had no right to win. But we are at the point of the season where such things don't matter. Either you win or lose - and the Celtics won. We can sleep happy.

Something that might be overlooked in the morning is that Leon still only played 15 minutes in scoring his 21 points. Let him play. There's no holding back. But I can't knock PJ Brown when the team is +20 with him on the floor. Yet tonight revealed what was rather obvious to many of us - Leon can score big against LA, just like he can against most teams. If he had been left in the game in the fourth I don't know if we would have been talking about LA's near comeback. He can mean that much, and thankfully Glenn let us see some of that grown-ass magic tonight.

Again, I am just really impressed about how the team has seemingly regrouped and is collectively playing so well. All the big guns are firing. The defense on Kobe continues to be superb. There is more to say but I will leave it to other scribes for now - soak in this victory, and hope for two more.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Incredible Beginning

I'm almost at a loss for words after this, I am just glad I got to see it. This was a great game, extremely well played, and it made my heart beat faster than any game this year. Pierce might be the toughest player in the NBA, when you really think about it. This was truly a classical performance by him, an actualization of what makes him great. Obviously, Paul's health seems to be the utmost concern as the series moves forward. I don't even know what to say about the injury, or what to believe. I have to think Paul will play, but there is a chance that the injury will make it physically impossible to do so. If that happens, and I really, really shudder thinking about it, the Celtics can still win the series. But God knows it will make it much harder. But let's not try to freak out totally about that yet.

Perk's injury is also disconcerting, it is hard to say if he will even be close to 100% on Sunday. PJ played decently in his minutes tonight, but Powe definitely still should have played more in his place. Perk's injury could increase both their roles. Brown's defense was excellent down the stretch, as was every one of the Celtics' on the floor. Holding LA to 37 in the second half is phenomenal, even if the Lakers were missing plenty of shots they usually make. Actually, pretty much everyone on the Green played well tonight. Ray especially looked refreshed from the time off, and it was apparent from the outset he was willing to do anything to get the win (his 8 boards were huge.) Hopefully another two full days off before the next game will help keep his legs fresh.

Los Angeles is scary, as we all know. In the first half, which was a great half of basketball, we got to see how unstoppable they are when all the pieces are clicking. But the Celtics showed no signs of hesitancy tonight, and they couldn't afford to against such a powerhouse. Ultimately that was the most positive sign of the evening - Boston played rock solid, with none of the postseason jitters we've become all to accustomed to. Great game, great performances, and now I will worry myself to sleep.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Now's The Time

I'm feeling I should put something up today, seeing as the future is nearly upon us and all. Truthfully I'm almost too amped up to write... in his series preview (which is outstanding, by the way) Simmons mentions not having eaten a solid meal in four days and I actually believe him. I'm going to keep this relatively short; Tim might throw up his own take later if he can extricate himself from the affectionate headlock that Dwyane Wade's got him in.

This should be a fabulous series... two great teams, a handful of simply outstanding players, one great coach, and two cities that stretch the boundaries of antithesis. You've heard it all before and you'll hear it all again (absolutely fucking constantly, I'd add, for the next two weeks), but there will at least be a few hours later tonight when it'll all just be about basketball, Gatorade commercials and more basketball. Then that will happen again on Sunday, then on Tuesday, and follow that loose pattern for at least a little while longer, we hope.

I have no idea what to expect from this series, and truthfully I doubt anyone does. Both teams are capable of absolutely slaughtering the other if certain pieces fall into place, which probably means it'll be the tight series that everyone's hoping for. It's unclear how Kobe will react on the biggest stage of all with the spotlight finally his, although the same obviously holds for Garnett. Paul Pierce is happy to be spending some time in LA and will most likely light shit up; Pau Gasol can't believe he's in the Finals after being on the Grizzlies a few months ago and will show up to play at the least. Ray Allen is... complicated. But so's Lamar. And around and around we go.

Few people are picking the Celtics to win this series; Tim Legler is the only ESPN "expert" going Green, a discouraging sign on a number of levels. Kobe's astonishing dismantling of the vaunted Spurs has led some to wonder if this is just a coronation. I don't think so, although I can't really formulate why, and while many would take this as a bad sign to me it feels comforting: there's something about this team that's beyond logic at this point. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they were the best team in basketball for the entire regular season, and the fact that they're still here now might be seen as supporting the apparently taboo assessment that perhaps they still are.

Let's play some basketball. C's in six, motherfuckers.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Bigtime Poetry And Talk

Not to already beat this Kobe-KG historical context thing into the ground, but I have to say I disagree with Jack in automatically placing Kobe above KG at this point in their careers. Obviously this can all change in the next couple of years (or even by the end of this series), but right now I cannot rate Kobe any higher than Garnett historically. Kobe got to play with one of the three or four most dominant players ever. At his peak I don't know if anybody was better than Shaq. Don't you think KG would have liked that opportunity? Kobe's incomparable partner-in-crime and their location (Global Media Head, California)has made his status bigger than it ever would be leading 44 win teams out of Minnesota. So judge Kobe a little more objectively, I say, at least till he takes his team all the way to the promised land.

Speaking of Garnett, do you know what Lakers' big men play significant minutes? Gasol, Odom, and Turiaf. That's it. Talented for sure, but hardly large and imposing. I'm surprised this isn't being talked about more. The Lakers have been able to go "small" and have a limited big man rotation without dire consequences. That could all change this series. One would believe KG could often have his way on the inside. And you know who could also probably? OUR FRIEND, LEON POWE. Remember him? You know, the guy who quietly dominated most of the season? And who Glenn will now never play for more than ten minutes, if at all? Oh yeah, that guy. Listen, PJ is a pretty good defender, but his playoff PER is all of 8.9, so let's stop with all the accolades. Get Leon in there and don't take him out unless he fucks up numerous times. You're gonna need offense against the Lakers, and Leon helps provide it. PJ does not. Plus, Powe should be able to guard the Lakers' bigs decently, as none of them are really centers in the first place. Glenn is still probably wishing he had John Amaechi for this series, though (read that link, it's what you'd expect from Rivers.)

Also, I have to touch on the crazy Dwyane Wade trade rumor, because it's so zany it possibly might be true. I love Wade, and in my mind he's one of only a handful of guys you simply don't ever even consider trading unless you get an equally untradeable commodity in return (read: LeBron, Kobe, Howard, Paul - and that's probably it.) But maybe, because of Dwyane's injuries, Miami no longer feels that way, even though they can't say it. And if there was ever a team that could put together an enticing package for an "untouchable" superstar it would be the Bulls - we're talking something like the #1 pick and a resigned Deng as the major pieces, or maybe Noah and Tyrus Thomas in place of Deng. That's considerable talent Miami would be getting. I dare say the majority of people would agree with Riley if he pulled the trigger on such a deal.

But I wouldn't. As we found out with KG this year, the elite great ones can totally transform your team. And a healthy Wade is exactly that type of player - the kind of constellation that is worth more than Beasely and Deng, as unlikely as that might sound to some. The stars of stars blind everyone else, and in 2006 Wade showed he clearly was one of those. And I will go out on a limb and say that if he remains healthy Dwyane Wade will be remembered as being better than either KG or Kobe twenty years from now.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Truth is Truth, to The End of Reckoning

I haven't posted since last week, so allow me to get this out of my system and say, ominously... It's All Happening. Before addressing the historical (or maybe more accurately, historiographical) questions posed by Tim in his last post, allow me to drop the not-entirely-un-noteworthy news that Tony Allen will probably miss the Finals with an Achilles injury. Considering how little TA has played in the postseason thus far (he's taken exactly one shot since the Atlanta series) this might not seem like a huge deal, although if the C's start getting in foul trouble against Kobe his presence may be missed. If this is the last we see of #42 this year he deserves an ovation, both for coming back from that gruesome knee injury last year and for adapting seamlessly and without complaint to a new (and, let's face it, diminished) role on an overhauled team. On the more humorous side this might mean Scalabrine dresses, although I'm personally hoping for Pruitt just to keep things interesting.

Now, on to the larger, weightier questions being knocked about by Tim and others on the figuring of this series in NBA lore. Tim makes the excellent point that since Jordan retired for the second time, the ol' Larry O'Brien has been almost exclusively the property of Mssrs. O'Neal and Duncan (doesn't this fact make the 2004 Pistons Championship seem even more impressive in retrospect?). It's also safe to say that a degree of immortality is on the line for both teams and their designated "superstars" (in this case, Kobe and KG), although I can't help but feel like Kobe has a bit more heat on him to make the next step. If the Lakers lose this series (and they certainly can) it will be on him, fair or unfair, and for a guy who has already been demonized for blowing up a championship team to soothe his own ego, among other things, a loss here will re-open the floodgates of doubt. Part of this is because the Celtics' best (perhaps only) shot of winning this thing is for Tom Thibodeau to draw up some sort of deKobeizing defensive strategy, such as the one explored by Henry at TrueHoop in this fantastic post from yesterday. If the C's are able to neutralize Kobe by making him regress to his high-volume-shooting neuroses--and neuroses is not too strong a word--not only do the Celtics have a good chance of winning this series but all of the "Kobe's too selfish to play within a system when it counts" stories will come back at a deafening roar. Kobe is an astonishingly polarizing player, and for all those who can't wait to see him ascend into an extremely exclusive pantheon (and a championship right now would do just that), there's just as many who'd love to see him lose in five, if only so they could point and say, tersely and loudly: "Not Jordan."

Garnett is a somewhat more delicate and confounding case. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if there's one thing these playoffs have shown it's that most Celtics fans, myself included, slightly overrated Kevin Garnett during the regular season. This isn't to diminish KG's considerable accomplishments but merely to point out that, knowing what we know now, it seems categorically insane that many were vocally lobbying for KG to win MVP over Kobe, which in restrospect would have been an error of near-Nowitzkian proportions. Make no mistake, Garnett is a great player, still quite possibly a top-five player in terms of overall impact if not overall skill. But Kevin Garnett's not playing for the same sort of historical status that Kobe is. A championship for Garnett would be a terrific story, a fantastic vindication of an all-time great, and it says here that if the C's win the title KG quickly becomes the front-runner for Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year" and all that sort of shit. But he's not Kobe, for better and for worse, and there's nothing wrong with that.

This leads us to an element of this series that will probably manage to be both over- and under-discussed over the coming weeks: the question of Paul Pierce. Shoals had a terrific guest-post about this over at Deadspin yesterday, and it's a conversation worth continuing: what happens to Paul Pierce if the Celtics pull this thing out? As readers of this site probably know--and just check the banner if you forget--both Tim and myself are among the more vocal leaders of the Paul Pierce Appreciation Society (it's metaphoric, don't go to Google). In my opinion Pierce is one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated athletes in the history of Boston sports, and perhaps the most striking part about this playoffs has been watching Pierce methodically play his way into the pantheon of Celtic greatness. And if you're one of the few Celtics fans out there who still doesn't see this, well, I sincerely hope that you'll go find another team to follow. All season long Garnett was telling anyone who'd listen that Paul Pierce was the MVP of this team, and we all dismissed it as more of KG's delightful blend of intensity and humility; now, a month into this whole thing, the question that ought be on everyone's lips is: Holy shit, what if he was right? Paul Pierce is, to a massive degree, the reason we're here: his 41 in Game 7 of the Cleveland series is already legendary, but his 27 in the Eastern Conference clincher was quietly magnificent: 43 minutes; 8-12 shooting; 10-13 from the line; 8 boards.

The basketball punditocracy doesn't know what to do with him: they're already cranking out story after story about Pierce's LA roots (by Thursday this trend may reach "Jerome Bettis is from Detroit"-level idiocy), but this isn't supposed to be Pierce's show: the script since November (July, even?) has called for Pierce to be Pippen to Garnett's Jordan, Kobe to his Shaq, if you will. What if it's the other way around? What if it's always been the other way around, exactly like Garnett's been trying to tell us for as long as there's been a microphone in his face?

If the Lakers win, Kobe ascends to Top-15 all-time status, possibly even Top-10. If the Celtics win, KG loses basketball's biggest albatross and most likely crosses over into legitimate cultural phenomenon in a way that few sports stars do, when you really think about it. Neither of these, at the end of the day, are all that interesting; they've seemed almost pre-ordained for quite a while now, even farther back than we care to admit. Pierce is a different story: he has the chance to become something entirely unexpected, something new, as strange as that is to say. Kobe and KG are freakish basketball geniuses, forces of nature and marketing, figures whose successes and failures have stalked the consciousness of an entire generation of basketball fans: theirs has been a path of magazine covers, Gatorade commercials and gauzy Sunday Conversations. It's partly for this reason that Pierce has a chance at a sort of sports heroism that we don't see much of anymore. Mark my words, if the Celtics win this series, it's Pierce we'll remember, maybe not at the post-series presser, or even the EPSYs or Barbara Walters' 10 Most Fascinating People of 2008, but sometime later. And these memories will last.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Third Man

The post Jordan years have been dominated by Shaq and Duncan. As much of a swell as people might make about Kobe being the best player in the league the last five years, any reasonable fan intrinsically must understand that Shaq and Duncan have been the two best players after Jordan left the Bulls. But almost as logically we can deduce that the best player after these two is going to be playing in the Finals. Kobe or KG is the third best player of the last ten years; it is almost as indisputable as naming Duncan and Shaq the best two. I find this pretty interesting - we are going to get to see two guys go at it head to head in completely new situations for them. How they will be remembered could dramatically change with how this series goes down.

The Kobe train is in full blitz right now - the media can seemingly not get enough of the guy; the MJ comparisons will never end. I have long peered at Kobe cynically, but no one can deny how brilliantly he is playing now, and how superior his game looks thanks to his veteran savvy. While I still believe "best player in the game" is going a bit far, there is little reason to think Kobe is not good enough to lead this team to the championship. And if he does he will surely cement his status as being the best guard since Jordan. Because this Lakers team, for all the hype, is flawed. Their third best player, the middle piece, is gone for the year. The team is still youthful and slightly inexperienced. Their second best player has only been with them since February, and as brilliantly as he has played, is not totally adapted. Yet the Lakers are the favorites - and the main reason is how on top of his game Kobe has been. We marveled at Wade and LeBron the past few years because they were so virtuosic- young but knowing how to seize the moment brilliantly. They were like Kobe used to be playing alongside Shaq. But this Kobe we are seeing now is nothing like his younger self or Wade and LeBron. He is a veteran, and has lost enough to find a new humility within his game that makes his sudden incomparable explosions seem all the more devastating. Many of us never though he would get it together like this, and the fact that he has will probably redefine his career.

KG's situation is totally different. While Kobe had the luxury of playing on great teams throughout his early career, constantly managing to steal the spotlight, Garnett worked his trade in relative obscurity. KG is the ultimate PER and Wages of Wins guy; there are many statheads who actually think Garnett is historically better than Shaq or Duncan (he's not.) Because he was always working with little, it was hard for many to gauge how good KG really was. Yet a victory here in the Finals would seemingly validate all those who claimed that Garnett was always a top 3 player in the league. Interestingly, KG does not seem to be playing at his absolute peak right now, which is how most of us are viewing Kobe's play. KG, on the other hand, is just being KG. His best days may have already passed (although his defense has never been this strong.) But even if the Celtics win and Paul Pierce is named MVP, it will be KG's stamp on the team that will be most remembered, because it will underscore how splendid Garnett has always been.

So this whole "Battle For #3" is an interesting setup. It really is unfair to say that whoever's team comes out of the series a victor is the better player, but don't be surprised if that ends up happening. Of course, both the Lakers and Celtics are very good, and this could be only the first of many Finals appearances in the near future for both squads. Kobe could lose this year and come back with Bynum to win the next three. And I guess such a positive prognostication could even be made for KG and the Celtics. Whatever the case, we are going to see two long revered stars shine in the spotlight in a new way, and the outcome will have significant historical meaning.