I’m thinking this list is sort of, kind of, in a way, ordered according to importance to the team. That the players as I present them are listed in order of indispensability. This, of course, is ridiculous, and because it’s ridiculous, par for the course when it comes to sports discourse. Still. KG less indispensable (more dispensable?) than Pierce? Absurd. Unfathomable. But, who could the Celts have survived without for the longest stretches against the Lakers (sorry . . . Fakers)? I don’t know. Make your own list. Anyway, it’d be like losing cylinder no. 2 in your v-12 Jaguar. That baby will not purr like it’s supposed to even if you pull the spark plug on any of these guys. (Backing up to yesterday: 1. Pierce 2. KG 3. Jesus Shuttlesworth)
4. James Posey: When I think about James Posey’s worth to this team, I think of four things, all you need to know to understand his indispensability: 1) Jeff Van Gundy is a coaches’ coach. When Thibodeau and I used to watch games in the late 80s, we loved it when Hubie Brown did commentary: it was like being at a coaching clinic (“when the defender goes to double team, you MUST dive to the rim”). I felt the same way when Rick Majerus was doing college games for ESPN. I watch games to learn more about basketball, and when the commentator is a serious basketball guy like Van Gundy, I pay attention. (Though I have to say the guy’s deadpan on the ESPN commercial with Mark Jackson was as funny-good as he is basketball serious-good. I think I cried laughing so hard.) At some point in The Finals, Van Gundy said of Posey, “If I’ve got a team, give me James Posey. Give me James Posey. That’s the kind of guy, if you’re putting together a team, you’ve got to have.” What he meant was: Posey is unselfish, tough, skilled, fearless, never backs down, physical, all business, ready all the time. If you’ve ever been in a situation on a pick-up court where you were one of the players choosing sides and you looked around, the Posey-type guy is the one you picked first if you wanted to win and stay on the court all afternoon. Right? 2) You always want a guy on your team who when he enters the game in an opposing arena, the crowd gets on its collective feet and chants his name followed by “SUCKS”! If that is happening in at least 2-3 gyms, all the better. Then you’ve got something, someone good. For instance, they don’t like James Posey in Chicago. (Ejected? they should eject the announcers. He obviously, OBVIOUSLY, went for the block, saw he didn’t elevate, grabbed the guy, Luol Deng, half to stop him from scoring, half to actually hold him up from falling hard. Technical on the announcing team! 3) Defense wins championships. We’ve known this since, like, the times of the Ancient Greeks. Posey plays defense. Chest-to-chest with Kobe. Great combination of strength, length, mobility, anticipation, intelligence and desire. I honestly did not know that Kobe could be guarded so effectively. It was worse, way worse, than Cooper or Rodman on Bird. 4) When I was done after my 7 years at Harvard, a friend asked me to coach her son’s team in a town rec league. I was scouting part-time, figured, I can squeeze this in. Sixth graders. I convinced them they all had talents and abilities they could bring to the team, and that no one talent or role was more important than any other. Role players. One kid I had could not shoot. I mean, nothing. 4’11” tops. Curly headed jewish kid. But he loved to hustle, had a nose for the ball and understood that when the other team had it, we wanted it and needed to go get it. Heart of a lion. This was 1992. I told him he was our Dennis Rodman. He showed up at the first game with his hair dyed green. I asked him “where’s the navel stud?” If I had that team today, I’d tell him he was our “Posey” and I bet he’d be there with that two-tone mouthpiece, a little bit of the craziness in his eye, the guy you gotta watch out for if you’re on the other team.
5. Rajon Rondo: What a beautiful Game Six. Not just because of the steals, the everywhere at once defensive quality he brought. Not just the pushing the ball up court, running the seams, finding knockdown spot up shooters EVERYWHERE. Not just the drives to the hoop that kept Kobe honest on defense. It was more where he came from – the depths of Games Three-Five where he was, because of a suspect jumpshot and an unwillingness to take it, risk it. He was buried. (Plus the sprained ankle.) Playing behind House and Cassell and even a little Tony Allen. Someone said something to him before Game Six. Someone, maybe he was talking to himself, someone said there’s a lot you can do to add to this team tonight. You’ve got skills and abilities that no one else on the either team has. Go out there and do them. (Chief Phil would have told him: “express yourself.”) No holding back. Rondo was a revelation, the game changer. The one who was on the gas pedal at the start and well into the game when they needed to be playing with the relentless energy and passion of an entire season in one game. And I love his demeanor: never changes expression. Never lets the other team have the satisfaction of seeing him distraught or distracted or down on himself. Heads could be exploding all around him as one guy’s confidence after another is shaken. Not Rondo. As poker faced as Larry Bird was when he was coaching The Pacers in The Finals. And this is a kid who Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe, in an article a couple years back questioning Danny Ainge’s moves (and who wasn’t questioning them) quoting Rondo’s Kentucky coach, Tubby Smith as saying, “glad to get rid of the kid . . . good riddance”, or words/sentiments to that effect. Rajon just rolled right outta Kentucky, right into an NBA championship, an accomplishment the Boston Celtics could not have achieved without him. And, of course, last night at an NTL clinic when a player stripped another, everyone knew exactly what I was gonna say, “you just got Rondo’d!”
6. Kendrick Perkins: Perk, to me, is what the NBA is all about, or what it can be all about. I have no idea what his background is, what his parents did for a living, how many siblings he had/has, any of that. All I know is that when they drafted him, The Pope, Leo Papile, Assistant Executive Director of Basketball Operations for the Celtics said something to the effect of “if I had a daughter, this is the kind of guy I’d want her to bring home.” I think that meant that Perk had character. And part of having character means the ability to have discipline, a great work ethic, trust your teammates and be trusted by them. There were long stretches in Perks’ first few years here, where you had to wonder whether he was gonna make it. Least I did. His skills around the bucket were still very high schoolish. Catch one foot from the basket, put his head down, take a dribble, go up and get his shot blocked. 6’11”. Sheesh. The plantar fasciitis he had last year certainly did not contribute to him looking very good. A big guy with questionable mobility to begin with who gets slowed down by injury is not a big man who inspires confidence. But, this Celtic organization, to their everlasting credit, sticks with the right guys for the right reasons and Perk came through. He developed into one of the handful of best interior defenders in the NBA. I really think so. That is hugely valuable. But he needs to stop fouling or stopping getting fouls called on him. At minimum, he’s got to stop going nuts every time there’s a whistle on him. Does he think he’s never committed a foul? Must be, because he’s complained about every single one since he entered the league! Most importantly, I think his teammates trusted him, knew if they were to be in a basketball war, that if they needed a teammate in the trenches, so to speak, that’s he’s a guy who’d stand with them till the very end. This ending, the one he contributed significantly to, was a very good ending indeed.