What we got from the 2007-08 Boston Celtics: A 66-win season. A 25-5 record against the West. The NBA Championship.
However, I must take issue with the hordes of writers and pundits who seemed to think this Finals series would be a coronation for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Unlike a lot of non-Laker fans, I have great respect for Kobe Bryant. I think he is the most gifted player in the NBA, if not the world. But I think a lot of Laker backers were dazzled by Kobe's skills, and less than dazzled by the punishing team defense played by the Celtics.
I go back to a late-season battle between the Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas. The Celtics prevailed, essentially, by shutting the Mavs down in the latter part of the fourth quarter.
Following the game, Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki remarked that Dallas hadn't seen that kind of defensive pressure all year. I remembered that, because it was a candid comment. Most NBA players never give undue credit to the other team. This is in part, at least, because NBA players don't like to admit when another team is superior.
But the Celtics' defensive pressure was stifling, throughout the year. It is a testament to the team, and, I suspect, to Kevin Garnett, that the squad could generate that energy night in and night out.
Of course, in basketball, one player, even if it's Michael Jordan, cannot control an outcome alone.
And Bryant had far less talent surrounding him than Jordan did during his championship years. I thought that Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol all underperformed in the Finals. Bryant was criticized for controlling the ball too much, but when you're the only guy who can get your shot off consistently, it's hard to want to give up the rock, especially when the 24-second clock is winding down.
Certainly, there were times when it seemed Bryant was chucking the game plan and trying to win games one-on-one, but I think basketball fans should give the Celtics' defense some credit in this regard.
As they should give coach Doc Rivers some credit. Rivers proved a few things this year. First, when he has the horses, he can compete with anyone. Second, he faced a veteran coach, Phil Jackson, in the Finals, and seemed to have an answer for every move Jackson made.
Boston Globe hoop guru Bob Ryan placed the 2007-08 Celtics as their second best team ever, behind the 1985-86 squad. I would not place this unit as high, simply because the Celtics' NBA finalists of 1984-86 were all better. Garnett would have to guard Kevin McHale, but Robert Parish would make mincemeat of Kendrick Perkins. And I'd like to see how Ray Allen would deal with the array of Larry Bird post-up options.
And while I don't disagree that the Bill Russell squads on the 1960s would be hard-pressed to match the size of the 2008 crew, it would be an intriguing series. John Havlicek and Allen would be a battle, and I think Sam Jones would do better against Paul Pierce than some might think. Garnett vs. Russell would be a nice little war, and K.C. Jones vs. Rajon Rondo would be fun to see. I'd enjoy watching Bailey Howell and P.J. Brown rabbit punch each other in the low post.
But the best part is that 2008 vindicated a lot of people.
I was watching the 1988 Eastern semifinals recently. That was the series in which Bird and Atlanta's Dominique Wilkins staged their Game Seven shootout. Rivers fouled out with 14 points and 16 assists, and was sobbing openly as he went to the bench. You had to feel bad for a guy who was so passionate and I remember feeling bad in 1988. I wondered if Rivers would ever have a chance for success. I'm glad he finally did.
To reach Derek Gentile: firstname.lastname@example.org, (413) 528-3660.