Friday, May 13, 2011

All is not lost.

Maybe it's a cop out, but after the Celtics lost in Miami and the series was over, I felt an odd sense of relief. Make no mistake about it: for their fight, pride and bravery, I applaud them, but in the hours leading up to Game 5, I found myself encased in doubt. Not doubt about whether or not the Celtics possessed the talent to beat the Heat, because they certainly do- but doubt about if the fight was even with it anymore. I initially argued that, though overcoming a 3-1 deficit was unlikely, it was still worth it to go out and scrap. Miami would be inconvenienced because they'd have to come back to Boston and play again, and they'd be forced to put forth effort that they'd surely rather save up for the next round. But watching Rondo, his face usually a carefully measured mask of stoicism, breathless and overcome by pain, and looking down the rest of the roster and watching as the names of people injury ridden piled up to unbelievable, ridiculous levels, it all just seemed like too much. This team plays beautiful, fluid and hard fought basketball and watching them reduced to playing a cheap version of their real game became to much for me. But again- in playing to the tilt and in never giving up the fight, they displayed one of the things that I love most about them: a unified front, full of heart, dedicated to winning.

And I think they can still do it. Yes, I think there's hope for next year. As it became clearer that the Celtics were going to lose game 5, Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson dragged on and on, talking about how the torch of the Eastern Conference was being passed from Boston to Miami. I refuse to endorse that sentiment. I truly believe that this team, if properly tweaked, can win another championship. Properly tweaking this summer has to look drastically different than it has in any other summer during the Big Three era. Competition is so staunch at the top of the Eastern Conference that banding together a team of superstars in the twilight of their careers won't make the cut. It doesn't require bringing in superstar talent (which is way out of the Celtics price range anyway), but it does require that the management make shrewd, crafty decisions to bring in a fleet of athletic, young, consistent talent. I think that re-signing Jeff Green and Delonte West and even Nenad Krystic would be a great start, along with Glen Davis- provided it's at the right cost. While on the topic of Jeff Green- many fans are down on him, due to his mainly lackluster post season performance. Anyone brought to Boston under the guise of being the factor that made it okay to trade Kendrick Perkins had enormous shoes to fill. He certainly left himself a lot of room for improvement, but I think that he has tremendous potential and could become a valuable asset as a swing man off the bench. The most glaring need is in the middle. This team can not win without a physical, intimidating presence. They need, as my dad so aptly classified it, "a banger." Forces like Lebron James will always get their points- but they can't be allowed to so comfortably live in the paint the way Lebron did this past series.  

I garner even more hope about the future of this team from Doc Rivers re-signing a long term deal. He is the embodiment of all things Celtic, and his investment in the long term signifies that this team is still dedicated to winning in the immediate future, and is not going to plummet in to mediocrity while rebuilding. Doc Rivers is as valuable as any guy suiting up and playing, and with him already on the books, much of my uneasiness has been soothed.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


It's been 3 years since the Celtics championship run in 2008, and still, to this day, if I allow myself to think about Game 1 of the Finals when Paul Pierce went down with a knee injury, I cry. I can still see him crumpled on the floor, face contorted with agony. My mind went to the worst of places right away- that it was season ending, that after years of playing on horrible Celtics teams his Championship aspirations were being stomped out with the finish line finally in sight. And then, minutes later, I can still see him running back through the tunnel, his face a mask of bravery, zoned in and ready to go.

And now, thanks to Rondo's staggering show of courage and dedication last night, I have no doubt that I have another memory which will bring me to tears in the blink of an eye. To see him on the floor, with KG hovered over him in a state of panic, my mind again was off to the races. I feared that this was the end of his season: that a season filled with nagging and painful injuries, a season filled with many doubting his commitment and ability, and a 3 year long fight to get back to the top would end with him on the floor, out of breath and writhing in pain. But it didn't. I allowed my frustration and disappointment in the 2-0 series to taint my vision. I forgot that this was Rondo- a 6 foot nothing soldier who's played through plantar fasciitis, a balky back, hand injuries that made his hands throb and feel arthritic and countless other unnamed injuries that remain anonymous because he refuses to use them as excuses.

So of course he went back to the locker room, had his elbow popped back in to place and returned to action. When I saw him trot back to the bench, I felt so lucky. People accuse athletes of being overpaid, egotistical and so consumed with their fame that they don't care about the sport. That's just not the case with this team. Rondo recently inked a 55 million dollar deal. Many other superstars with similar monetary success would be worried about next year- I dislocated my elbow, what happens if I try to keep playing, further injure myself and that effects next year? What about my endorsements? What about my next contract? Rondo isn't worried about next year. He's not looking past this series- he's not even looking past the current game. He has no summer plans.  He wants to win. And a fan that's emotionally invested and all consumed by this team, I feel so lucky to have players on my favorite team who make it worth it. If Rondo can play with one arm and tell everyone that he's going to continue playing and not to ask him how he's feeling, even if he's holding his arm- then I certainly am not giving up on this team. We're even more lucky. It isn't just Rondo. It's Delonte, rising and rising again after injuries continue to pile up around him. It's Paul Pierce, playing an a strained foot and diving in to the stands, Jermaine O'Neal coming back from a knee surgery and Shaq giving all he can with his body fiercely protesting. I could go on and on. This team has resolve. They're still down 2-1, and there's a long way to go... But like KG said: I'm all in.