Ten thoughts from a Game 6 in which the Celtics put an end to the Cavaliers' season and started what will be the most annoying 47 days in ESPN history ...
1. I'm guilty of sometimes playing the "NBA isn't what is used to be" card. Lots and lots of games today that are 76-68 with four minutes to go. With too many teams, the regular season can be nearly impossible to watch at times. It's just not the same league I grew up with. But none of that means that these Celtics of the last three years have to take a back seat to any in franchise history. They've given you plenty of bang for the buck. The two Game 7 wins in 2008. The comeback in Game 4 vs. the Lakers, plus the Game 6 whipping that saw the Lakers flat-out quit (sound familiar?) Last year, maybe the best first-round series of all-time in any sport. Now this. Ending the season of the best team and the best player in the NBA. In my lifetime, I could argue that the 1984-86 Celtics and the 2001-03 Patriots maybe had as many big-game moments in a three-year stretch. Maybe. But that's it. Nice company and well deserved.
2. The Celtics MVP of the regular season? Rajon Rondo. How about for the first-round series vs. the Heat? Rondo. And for this series? Yup. I guess Steve Nash still owns "Best Point Guard in the NBA" rights for now, but he's the only guy I'd even allow in the conversation with Rondo at this point. You think Chris Paul is going to (significantly, by the way) outplay LeBron James in a playoff series in his career?
3. Runner-up for series MVP, of course, was Kevin Garnett. How consistent has he been in this postseason? Well, he has scored 14 points (his low for the playoffs,) once, 15 once, 16 once, 18 five times, 19 once and 22 points on Thursday night.
I think we all circled the Garnett-Antawn Jamison matchup as a key for the series. Going in, I thought it was a wash, maybe even a slight edge for the Cavs. Jamison had a terrific first-round series vs. the Bulls (19.4 points, 7.4 boards) and I still wasn't sold on Garnett as fully back. Well, that's why we call it the Moron File:
Garnett: 18.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 52 percent shooting
Jamison: 11.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 42.1 percent shooting
4. How, exactly, do we define LeBron's Game 6? Say this for James: There will be no columns written about how he seemed "detached" or "uncaring." He played hard. Tough to get 19 rebounds when you're dogging it. And, yes, he had a triple-double. But did anyone think LeBron James played well on Thursday? He played desperate, give him that. He went down fighting (well, at least for the first 47 minutes -- more on that later.) But nine turnovers? Trouble with Tony Allen?
5. LeBron James was otherworldly in Game 3. As good as any player I've ever seen. And it seemed at that point that order had been restored. The Cavs had a 2-1 series lead and LeBron had showed why he is the best basketball player in the world. If you had told me at the end of Game 3 that the series would go six games, probably I would have nodded. Sure, maybe the Celtics could win one more, that kind of thing. But the idea that the Cavs would not win another game in the series and James would have more turnovers (19) than field goals (18) in three losses? Unthinkable.
6. Rasheed Wallace hit some shots in Game 2 but did not play well. It was the same old stuff, really. No effort on D, didn't block out, got beat down the court a couple of times. It was hailed by some as the "this is the reason why they got him!" game, but it just was a guy who hit a few wide-open jumpers.
But Game 6 was different. Rasheed cared. He boxed out, went into the stands for a loose ball, even. If a Cavs player took the ball into the paint, Wallace was there with a hard foul. And he made some big shots. You could even argue that the 3-pointer he made with 6:09 left to give the Celtics a 12-point lead was a dagger straight out of the (gulp) Larry Bird school of knowing when to use the 3 to end things.
(Wow. What a fraud I am. A week ago I called Wallace "the biggest free agent flop in Boston sports history" and now I'm sort of comparing him to Larry Bird. Pathetic. Join me next week when I write how Marquis Daniels playing three minutes with a blister is more impressive than Kevin McHale logging 45 minutes a night on a broken foot in the 1987 playoffs.)
7. Always nice when you can first-guess a coach and it turns out to be right. I'm sure Mike Brown had his reasons to start the game with Shaq on Garnett and Jamison on Kendrick Perkins, but I can't think of one. Why would Shaq be able to go out and guard Garnett on the perimeter? Shaq is 322 years old. You think he's going to fight through pick and rolls? And how is Jamison going to match up with Perkins underneath? I can see the Cavs coaches spitballing some ideas over the last couple of days, sure, but THAT is the one that makes it to the stage? And I'll ask again: Where was J.J. Hickson? I'll set Nov. 12 as the over/under for the first national "Hickson shines in Cleveland with new coach" story next season.
And Jeff Van Gundy thought that Shaq on Garnett was a good move? Come on, Jeff, you are supposed to be one of the good ones. Mark Jackson was right on it, at least. And Van Gundy did bounce back later on, yelling at Anderson Varejao for complaining to the refs that he was bleeding. "So what if you're bleeding? It cleanses the soul."
8. I understand that the Cavs almost certainly were not going to come back and win in the last minute and a half. But we aren't talking impossible here. Teams have come back from nine down with 90 seconds left. Don't you at least foul once and just see what happens? Where, exactly, is the harm in that? I don't know, if I've been fighting for a title since October, I'm exhausting every last option. You think this Celtics team would ever go out like that?
9. Leon Powe told WEEI.com after the game that he thought this Celtics team was "a bit better" than the 2008 title team he was part of. I dismissed the thought at first -- the Big Three is older, no James Posey, P.J. Brown, Eddie House -- but it makes some sense when you think about it. The 2010 team has had a much easier run through the first two rounds. Beat Miami in five and handled the Cavs in six (could argue they were the better team in five of the six games.) The 2008 team needed Game 7 to get past an OK Atlanta team and a Cavs team that won 16 fewer games than the 2009-10 team.
If the C's are in fact better (and I'm not buying it yet, myself), what is the reason?
"The growth of Rondo," said Powe. "He's the leader on the floor. Directing the offense, telling everybody where they need to go. He just did it all this series. Hats off to him."
Oh yeah, Rondo. Duh. You forget that Rondo wasn't even on the floor in some crunch-time minutes for the Celtics just two years ago. That Game 4 comeback against the Lakers? Rondo played 17 minutes. House played 24:34 and Posey played 25:28. So when you compare the two teams, you have to remember that Rondo has gone from the kind of player that caues a general manager to bring in Sam Cassell to one of the 15 best players in the NBA. I'd still take the 2008 team, if only because Garnett and Pierce and Allen were closer to their salad days, but I can understand Powe's thought.
10. Celtics-Magic? I'll take the Celtics in six. I know the Magic are 8-0, but are we accepting Charlotte and Atlanta as legitimate tests? If you buy that the talent level is close with the two teams, I'll go with the group that I know can win a title.