Final Celtics’ Player Scorecards (Nos 1,2,3)
Posted by Steve Bzomowski on June 19, 2008
Here are my thoughts, a look back at the players, where they came from, what they did.
First The Three Amigos:
1. Paul Pierce: listed first because he, in my mind, was not just the Finals’ MVP, but the Celts’ MVP for the season. I was down on Pierce the past couple of seasons, wanted him traded, outta here. All the usual reasons: selfish; egocentric; an unjustified, unearned overinflated view of himself; the constant pouting about calls, just a bad overall package. Sure he was an outstanding scorer but he always acted as though he were entitled to more. But sometimes, you gotta do more to get more. Doc Rivers and his unwillingness to bow to Pierce, especially the previous two seasons, is the salvation of Pierce. And Pierce’s own willingness and ability to change. (Great piece by Jackie MacMullan on the transformation of Pierce.) And change he did. We didn’t just witness a great basketball player playing his best on the world’s biggest basketball stage, we saw a young guy grow up. We saw him learn to take responsibility for himself and learn to trust others. Talk about not being able to win without Posey or KG or Thibodeau; the Celts could not have won without Pierce becoming a new and different and more mature human being.
Outplayed “the best player on the planet“. Changed the course of the series in Game Four when he proved Bryant could be guarded one-on-one in the Celtics’ defensive schemes. Went to the basket unbridled against absolutely anyone and everyone (okay, except Bryant when Bryant wasn’t in foul trouble). Dished the ball appropriately and effectively when the Lakers gave him too much attention (Game Six, nine first half assists!). Never cried, complained, whined about all the bad calls. Stayed focused, understood what it’s like to be on a team, and the true leader of the team. And the best part for me to see, what had to have been hard for him: listening to the MVP chants for Garnett when Pierce is the one who’d been here for ten years, when he had made the biggest sacrifices of all, when he was the one who went inside himself and brought out a new and better and more reliable and trustworthy version of himself. He could have pouted or seethed, acted out in some unseemly fashion, “I’m the MVP!”. Nope, Instead he embraced his teammates and put on display a “someday they’ll retire jersey No. 34” performance.
2. Kevin Garnett: How badly did he want this thing? How perfect a fit was this man for this team? How quiet were his critics, those who suggested he could not step-up in the biggest moments, after he could not miss in Game Six? Um, how much Red Bull does he drink??? And what was he saying to Michelle Tafoya after the game? Can we run that back one more time?
Funny thing about KG, his much criticized unwillingness to “takeover” during “crunch time” is probably, long-term, big picture, a good thing. I think the guy is just unselfish, truly believes in moving the ball to the next best open player. For a good part of the season and at least the first two rounds of the playoffs, I was thinking KG was the most automatic 17-20 foot jump shooter in the league. I was amazed. I didn’t think he could miss but he started to the first few games of The Finals, then he got it back late in Game Five and was back to form in the Final Massacre. We knew it was gonna be good when he, first game of the season, rejected, cartoon-style, a Gilbert Arenas (fellow adidas guy!) drive. Squish. Should have been a Celtic from Day One, right out of high school. I believe he thinks he was.
3. Ray Allen: I believe Ray Allen’s biggest contribution was the demonstration before his teammates of his professionalism on and off the court. I think Pierce (and a whole bunch of others) saw it and learned from it. I remember waiting to talk to Thibodeau and Van Gundy after a game when they were with the Knicks and ML Carr was coaching the Celts – that was a good year in Boston! Anyway, Charles Oakley walked by as I talked (briefly) with Van Gundy (he asked me how Never Too Late was doing!). Oakley was dressed like a businessman, a three-piece, pinstriped suit, he carried a briefcase. This was their power forward, one of the best in the game. He was leaving work. When the Celts got Ray Allen this year, I thought of Charles Oakley that night and how that professional persona that Ray Allen too would bring would really benefit this team.
Here’s another thing that Ray Allen did: he improved Paul Pierce’s free throw shooting. This may sound absurd, but these guys, these NBA guys, the good ones, are competitive with one another as well. They know each other’s numbers. And they don’t want to look bad. Paul Pierce’s career free throw percentage was not nearly what it should have been given the kind of shooter he is. Enter Ray Allen and his gaudy numbers from the line. During a pre-season game, I said to my wife (ask her!) that Paul Pierce’s numbers would go way up, that he would not abide missing when Ray Allen was making. It was good clean competition. Ray won but Paul did, too. He had by far his best season from the line.
Ray Allen proved throughout The Finals, guarding Kobe for much of it, that he is an above average defender. He also is a great practitioner of what I consider the most astounding athletic feat regularly employed by NBA players: the catch on the dead run, pivot (turning 180 degrees), square up, elevate straight up and knock down jump shoot. Dunks I can understand, ankle breaking crossovers and spin moves I can see, but how do they run away from the basket, catch and turn and get themselves under such great control to finish with soft, smooth accurate 25 foot shots??? My favorite part of Ray Allen’s game this year were his drives to the basket though; proves he’s way more than just a shooter. Especially his embarrassment of Sasha and that lefty finish. That and when Mark Jackson said, “Rondo finds Jesus Shuttlesworth wide open in the corner!” Amen.
The RV ride with Van Gundy that proved they could overcome anything.
to be continued (James Posey, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, et al)