Sleeping on the Celtics

On July 1, 2009, I went on record over at TSF as saying I liked whichever team picked up Rasheed Wallace to win the championship.  Wallace, over the years, has proven to be a formidable post-season defensive player on the low block.  He has a valuable outside shot (sometimes used too often during the regular season), and his basketball IQ is off the charts.  When Wallace is not being targeted by the NBA’s legion of corrupt officials, he is a focused and productive teammate.  He has won an NBA championship with the Detroit Pistons and he also established himself as a go-to-guy in the post-season for the Portland Trailblazers many moons ago.

Boston Bench Stormer: Rasheed Wallace

Today, Wallace is a role player behind three sure fire Hall of Famers: Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.  At the center of this new Perfect Storm is point guard Rajon Rondo.  I always  liked Rondo.  I liked him when he played for Tubby Smith at Kentucky.  I liked him as a raw player during the 2008 championship run of the Celtics.  I said at the time that if he ever developed a reliable jumper, he would vault to the top of the NBA’s players — not merely the point guards.  It is crystal  clear from the events of the 2009 post-season and of this playoff season that Rondo is now firmly a member of an elite group of playoff performers.

Before his 29 point, 18 rebound, 13 assist showcase, Rondo was performing at a high level and embarrassing his opponents with his “off beat rhyme flow.”  How is it that the no one saw this coming?  In 2009, didn’t Orlando struggle to beat Boston WITHOUT Kevin Garnett?  Hasn’t Cleveland always been a post-season side show?

Now, the Celtics lead the Orlando Magic 2-0 after taking two games in sunny Florida.  The Celtics, for all their history, have never taken the first two games of any series on the road.  Not Russell and Cousy; not Havlicek and Jones; not Cowens and White; not Bird and McHale.  Hard to believe.  Coaches like Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, K.C. Jones and others never achieved this feat.  Doc Rivers is on the verge of changing the conversation about coaching in the NBA.

If form holds and the Celtics face and defeat the Los Angeles Lakers for a second time in 3 years (and Rivers takes his second crown at the expense of Phil Jackson), people will have to do some serious pondering about this team.  Only now, in mid-May, are media experts recognizing that the Celtics conceded the regular season race long ago.  The regular season race was decided on March 14, a road loss at the Cleveland Cavaliers.  After that game, Boston had no realistic chance of catching the Cavs…and they didn’t waste time or effort pursuing “home court advantage.”  The Celtics finished the season 9-8, then proceeded to seize home court advantage from younger, inexperienced teams focused on fool’s gold.

Rajon Rondo: Boston's Magician-in-Training

Rajon Rondo: Boston's Magician-in-Training

Wallace, Garnett and Rivers knew that a 65-win season was neither feasible nor valuable.  The Celtics are precisely where they sought to be.  In the driver’s seat and headed home.

How could you have missed this?


  1. I missed it because Garnett was dragging that leg for most of the season. It wasn’t just that the Celtics conceded things, they really and truly couldn’t get it done when Garnett was banged up. I said that if they get healthy and focused they are dangerous, but I didn’t think they would get healthy.

  2. You’ve recently posted some of the best sports commentary. Reminds me of what I liked and miss about Ralph Wiley and David Halberstam. Conventional wisdom blames cable news and internet for the decline of newspapers. Not I.

    If print journalism were comprised of the erudite, disciplined, and unafraid writers of yesterday it would be thriving. Literate people like myself would be supporting them. For example, you list K.C. Jones along side Russell and Auerbach. He is simply never mentioned by mainstream media as essential to the greatness of the Celtics in the Eighties. All the while, it’s impossible to hear any meaningful discussion of Jordan or Magic Johnson without mention of their respective coaches. Do we routinely hear about the commander in chief when Bird and McHale were battling on the court?

    Just pay attention to the banter of commentators. Sheeit. Kareem’s name crosses their lips as an embarrassed whisper or unavoidable indiscretion compared to the plaudits for Bill Walton.

  3. Thanks, Sub. Much appreciated.

    KC Jones was the coach when I hated the Celtics. The other forgotten face of the old Celtics is Sam Jones. People talk about Havlicek and Cousy and Cowens and others, but Sam is not often mentioned outside of Boston. For all the racial animus that defined the Lakers-Celtics rivalry during the 80’s, the Celtics were trailblazers on the question of race and it made them formidable on and off the court.

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