Ten thoughts from a Game 3 that went a long way in securing the legacy of Vince Carter. Dwight Howard still has time to recover, but there aren't many days of basketball sunshine left for Vince. If my season (and best chance at a title) is on the line, not sure I'd be settling for 18-footers with 15 seconds left on the shot clock. Turns out that all the worst things we thought about Carter as a player are probably true. If you wanted to win 44 games and fill up a season-ending video with dunks and chest bumps Vince was your man. But winning titles and getting the ol' hands dirty? Well ...
To the 10 thoughts ...
1. It's easy enough to just say that the Celtics "want it" more than the Magic. You and I knew that was true in the first two games, but it is a statement that rests largely on intangibles. It can be a tricky thing to prove.
Well we got our smoking gun in the "Who wants it more?" trial in Game 3 when Rajon Rondo made the play of the postseason (and his young career) for the Celtics, diving to the floor to beat a jogging Jason Williams for the loose ball, then getting to his feet and blowing past Williams (who made no effort to defend, save for a halfhearted push) for a layup. Series over.
There it was. The moment that showed the difference between the two teams. The perfect example when you need to show why one team is up 3-0 on another in a series where the talent of both teams is nearly equal.
How many Celtics at least attempt to make that play (I say attempt because Rondo might be the only player in the NBA with the combo of skill and heart to be able to pull it off)? I think Garnett would, same with Pierce, both Allen's. You know Glen Davis would give it a shot.
How many players on the Magic? You see Vince Carter trying that? How about Rashard Lewis? I know Stan Van Gundy would, but that's not much of a help.
Doesn't happen a whole lot, but sometimes one play can define a series and tell you everything you need to know about both teams.
2. When this series is over Dwight Howard, Vince Carter and Stan Van Gundy will be the three that receive the most scrutiny from the media. I get why, Howard and Carter are huge names and Van Gundy, by his own admission, is the one to blame for the Magic's pathetic Game 3 effort. And if you've kept even one eye on this series you know that all three have earned whatever grief is coming their way in the offseason. But another goat goat in this series is Rashard Lewis, of course. Lewis has played 112 minutes in this series and has scored 15 points. That's two fewer points than Glen Davis scored in 27 minutes on Saturday. That's one fewer point than Isiah Thomas once scored in a 94-second stretch of a playoff game vs. the Knicks. An absolute vanishing act. Howard (Game 2) and Vince (parts of Game 1) have at least had some moments, but Lewis has done zippo in the first three games. Well, that's not exactly true -- he has done a swell job berating the refs after a couple of calls in each game. OK, so he's been a poor man's Kevin Gamble in this series --but at least he's not on the books for $66 million over the next three years or anything. That's only $60 million more than Big Baby's contract. Who would you rather have for the rest of the playoffs?
3. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- it's not the NBA playoffs until Jake Gyllenhall shows up at the Garden. One of the five best hoops fans on the planet, and also the star of I wasn't close enough to confirm this, but I could have sworn before the game I heard Jake and J.J. Redick talking about some kind of hunting and fishing trip they were going to take in the offseason. Where would that take place, I wonder?
4. Not that this matters much, but if we did a 2006 NBA Redraft today the first pick would have to be Rondo. If you buy into the idea that Rondo is a better player than Brandon Roy -- and I suspect that we all do at this point -- it's an easy call. True, the 2006 group won't be confused with the 1984 class (Rondo and Roy are the only two that have played in an All-Star Game) but it's great value at the No. 21 spot.
5. Why is it that Vince Carter can't dunk over anyone on the Celtics but Ray Allen can dunk on the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year? And can we all agree that a Celtics sweep of the Magic means a two-year ban on any Bill Russell comparisons when it comes to Howard? A 100k fine from David Stern for anyone that invokes the name of William Felton when talking about Howard. And, to be fair, over the same two years Russell will not be allowed to dress up as Superman or Clark Kent and appear in ESPN commercials or halftime mock interviews. Fair enough?
6. The Celtics are five wins away from putting the "Would they have been better off with Kevin Durant in 2007?" debate to bed forever. Here's what I wrote five months ago on the subject:
Do you think Ainge wishes that he did wind up with the first pick in the 2007 draft? Assuming that he was going to take Kevin Durant (which seems to be the case), would he trade one sure title for a dozen years of Durant/Rondo/Jefferson/Perkins? I know I would. Durant is going to win a half-dozen scoring titles and probably an MVP or two. Something to think about when the Celtics win 28 games in 2014.
Shows how quickly I've been converted to the Church of Rondo. Back then I wasn't sure he could be the best player on a team that could win 30 games, now I'm convinced he's a top 10 player in the league.
And maybe -- maybe Ainge would trade one title for a Durant-Rondo-Al Jefferson decade. Greedy, sure, but you can see both sides. But there is NO WAY that he's throwing two titles back into the river.
7. This is picking nits at its very worst, but if I had to find something to worry about from a Celtics perspective when it comes to a potential matchup vs. the bigs of the Lakers might be the struggles of Garnett offensively in this series. KG shot 57.8 percent vs. the Heat and averaged 15.8 points. Against the Cavs he shot 52.1 percent and averaged 18.8 points. In this series, however, he's hit only 36.1 percent of his shots and is at 9.3 points per game. Might just be three random games, but it's something to watch heading into a series where Garnett will absolutely be needed on both ends of the floor if the Celtics want to win No. 18.
8. Just to be clear on Garnett -- this isn't a health issue. He's just struggled with his shot over the last week. He's been a beast on the defensive side of the ball, not allowing Rashard Lewis to breathe. And he's rebounding (8.8 per game) and blocking shots. Look, when your biggest reason for worry three games into the Conference Finals is whether or not a healthy Kevin Garnett will start hitting jumpers again (and he did go 4-for-6 from the floor in Game 3, to be fair) it's a pretty good sign that things are going well.
9. One last Garnett note -- is there now any doubt that if KG had been healthy for the postseason last year that we would be looking at a third straight Lakers-Celtics final? OK, maybe the Celtics would have lost to the Cavs (I guess -- but even that seems a push now, doesn't it?) but there is no way they go down to the Magic. Rashard Lewis averaged 20.4 points per game and the Magic still needed seven games to advance. Take Lewis out of the series (which is what Garnett has done this year) and you've got a different result.
10. Hasn't been the best week for Stan Van Gundy (would a Ron Jeremy coached team come out that flat with a season on the line?) But give the man his due: He can take a charge. More than I can say for the entire roster he presides over.