After the Celtics hyper-emotional run to victory in the 2008 finals, as a basketball neophyte, I was ready to fall in love with that team. Everything about it worked. The storylines were overblown but extremely engaging, and the way they played was similarly straight out of a hokey film. That voluble passion which manifested itself in odd ways, as the team snapped between lackadaisical periods before blitzing teams with a boundless intensity. The war cries of Garnett, Pierce’s eye for the theatrical and Allen’s quietly cerebral game – I loved them all.
And here I am, two years later, screaming at Miami for allowing them back into the game, telling my youngest daughter – not yet conceived during that dream season of ’07-08 – that she must never, ever cheer a Celtic. What happened? How did my love become loathing? I feel like to a large extent it came from the same place their current disaffection was born.
Put simply, the same factors which made them so selfless during that golden season have now come back to haunt them in the most infuriating way. The big three, once so committed to the team game, are mere shadows of their championship-winning selves, as if the mere act of getting a ring – proving to the world what they had always known of themselves – gave them free license to turn into the most selfish caricatures of that they had been prior. The movie stars:
Paul Pierce as the man who gave too much of himself to his ungrateful team. The man who can lie dormant for much of the game until he kicks into action in the fourth quarter, never mind the fact that the hole they’re in is largely of his own neither-in-nor-out making.
Kevin Garnett as the man whose passion almost kills him. When he misses a basket the manifest anger rarely feels self-directed, and so subtly implies that his team-mates have, in this game of inches as well as feet, failed to meet his own exacting standards. The elbow he threw to the face of Quentin Richardson today seemed awfully calculated; a way of showing that he remains untamed, a basketball player whose desire still occasionally outreaches his self-control.
And Ray Allen. The most innocent of the three, and the most cripplingly aware of his own ranking within the triptych. But his relative blamelessness (coupled with his post-trade deadline rejuvenation) serve only to highlight the measure to which he removes himself from the dirty matter of winning and losing. Being the perfect foil, along with his colleagues’ obsession with the limelight (witness another ‘miraculous’ Pierce recovery today to go along with Garnett’s late-game walk), means never having to say you’re responsible.
Let’s not even get into how toxic Wallace’s addition has been. The disastrous nature of that one is patently obvious. Really the worst part is that underneath the vets, in the starting five, are two fantastic young players. Rondo is an inexplicably awful free throw shot away from being one of the best young guards in the league (his cutting-and-dishing assists are just outrageous, while making his creaky team-mates look better than they’re naturally playing), and Rondo’s mercurial nature, rather than making him a coach killer, just has the effect of making him perpetually dangerous to his opponent.
Kendrick Perkins, meanwhile, despite being borderline the ugliest man on his team (that squinty little beard alone makes him an endorsement liability, and entirely unlikeable) is a fantastically selfless centre. He makes six out of every ten shots, hauls down seven and a half boards in 27 minutes a game and plays exceptionally strong defence in a position where you get little glamour for your efforts. Toss those turnovers and the frequent foul trouble (both allowable in a 24-year-old) and he’s untradeable.
But the latter pair are becoming more perfunctory, more selfish, more frustrated with what is manifestly obvious to anyone within eyeball contact of the team. Even Doc Rivers is talking about leaving them to it after this season, a scant two years after tasting the glory in a franchise rich in it, and one which holds close to their heart any who can/has bring it/brought it (the glory!) back.
Put simply, what made them great has turned toxic. When they all needed the validation it was very different. But now that they must again play together against squads which are stronger and better acclimatised to their strengths, they’re barely interested in the notion of a team.
Today they turned up for about 15 minutes, which is all a serious team requires to beat the Dwayne Wade and his Miami Heat in 2010. During that time the Celtics reminded me why, after their first 20 or so games, I thought the season was as good as over. Not only were they winning, but they were winning in the most playoffs-centric manner imaginible. That is, with defense that makes suffocating look like a day-spa treatment.
They rolled that out from the middle of the third today til near the end of the fourth, by which stage the Heat had figured out that it was more over than than the clock was letting on. I don’t know whether that means the series is done (I picked Miami in my bracket), or whether they’ll live to be murdered by the GGG LeBron in the next round. But either way it showed that’ just enough to get by’ is Celtic’s current mantra, and that makes me hate them even more than the 09-10 Lakers. Who, for all their faults, at least try for the whole game (and have Pau Gasol showing what basketball should be).
I guess this is by way of introduction to the playoffs. I’m going to watch a lot of it, and talk about it all. I love some teams for obscure reasons, and am less keen on others without really knowing why. But these Celtics make me sick, and I would love nothing more for Dwayne Wade and his overpaid (seriously, how is this team in the luxury tax again?) journeymen to get these supercilious hacks off my screen until November.
See you soon (I mean soon. I now have a study, and want to write most nights).