By Jason Wojciechowski on June 18, 2008 at 5:38 AM
I don't remember who wrote it, but I read recently that a whole new generation of Lakers fans is being introduced to the Lakers-Celtics rivalry. I don't usually go in for the rivalry stuff (I could generally care less about the Giants, for instance), but this series has changed my NBA landscape: I officially hate the Celtics. This doesn't come about through any one act or game or anything, but a confluence of factors.
There's Kevin Garnett's increasingly tiresome act, pounding his chest after every tiny good thing he does, never letting an opponent's after-the-whistle practice shot go in, never smiling or looking like he enjoys playing a game for a living. It reached a peak in the closing minutes of Game 6: with about 5:00 to play, he shoved Lamar Odom on a drive to the basket with one hand, so Odom's shot was a weak lob to the basket that Garnett easily snatched from the air with his other hand. Garnett was called for the obvious foul, and then celebrated as if he'd done something good, sticking out his tongue, ranting about something or other. The Celtics, remember, were up something like 30 or 35 at this point. Is that how a classy player reacts to fouling an opponent in that situation? By celebrating and sticking out your tongue and yelling? Here's a hint, Kevin Garnett: that isn't how Bill Russell would have reacted in that situation. Garnett, by coming up small time and time again in the playoffs, having to be carried by Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, by showing that, even as the Defensive Player of the Year, he needs to be protected by allowing him to play weakside help defense instead of manning up the Lakers best post player, has shown that he's no Bill Russell. This sentence in this blog post ought to be the last time anyone breathes those two names in the same sentence again.
I hate that Garnett's nonsense act has spread to the other players. Why can't Kendrick Perkins be a nice happy-go-lucky kid? Why can't James Posey smile the way he did when he was on the Heat?
And the ugly sportsmanship of Garnett's shove-and-celebrate move showed up a few minutes later as Eddie House threw an alley-oop pass to Tony Allen with something like 2:00 to play and about a 35-point lead. That's a classless move. If you did that in the regular season, you'd probably end up with an elbow to the head the next time the teams met. You dribble out the clock and take a jump shot at that situation in the game. You don't drive the lane and throw alley-oops. Especially if your names are Eddie House, who the Celtics thought was bad enough to play Sam Cassell over him half the time, and Tony Allen, who played almost as little as Brian Scalabrine in the playoffs. Live up to the legacy, Boston.
There's the fact that the Celtics employ PJ Brown, who's that nasty old guy everyone hates on the floor, the guy who doesn't have any skill left but makes up for it with a bag of tricks, some clever (the pull the chair move), some illegal (pushes, holds, and shoves every single time down the floor), and some dirty (swiping at Jordan Farmar's head after Farmer embarrassed him by pulling down a rebound over him).
There's Game 2. And it's more than Game 2. Thinking back, I think my story is that five of the six games were refereed evenly, but the line at which the officials chose to draw where a foul was and were it wasn't favored the Celtics. The key to the series was whether the Celtics cloggy defense, assisted by grabbing and holding and pushing and elbowing and shoving, would defeat the Lakers (beautiful when it's on) flow offense. The officials chose to referee the games in such a way that the little inside grabbing and holding were (consistently) not called. This meant that the Lakers were the ones who had to adjust, and they couldn't: their jump shooters came up short in the series, and their big men were unable to adjust and score with an eight-foot game when they couldn't get to the basket. Anyway, none of this is to say anything about conspiracies or Stern Buttons or anything like that; it's simply to say that the way the games were refereed happened to favor the Bad Guys.
Why else do I hate the Celtics? I guess there are still some little things. There's Sam Cassell chucking Sasha Vujacic on the floor in Game 5 and getting nary a whisper from the referees. There's Ray Allen's perpetually smug look. There's the fact that the Celtics will be remembered as the champions despite being this close to losing in the first round to Atlanta. There's Danny Ainge's bullshit Executive of the Year award, which will go down in history as one of the worst trophies in history once it becomes obvious that he sacrificed the team's future for a single year of job-saving glory, with a major assist from a former Celtic with a clear hankering for the glory days (McHale). Flags fly forever, but Boston fans won't be happy when the Celtics are bounced from the second round of the playoffs next year and completely miss the playoffs two years after that. Basically, I hate that it worked. I hate that mortgaging the future actually came out to the desired result.