Tom Brady might be sitting courtside at TD Banknorth Garden on Saturday—when the Celtics officially begin their title defense—but unlike last postseason, he will not be the most important guy in street clothes next to the Celtics bench.
Unfortunately, that honor will go to the Big Ticket.
What many feared last month after Kevin Garnett’s brief and unsuccessful return from a knee strain is now a bitter reality: The MVP of the Celtics, Mr. Anything’s Possible himself, is out indefinitely.
We have all witnessed how the fire burns inside this unparalleled athlete. We saw him spill his guts every night for 12 years in Minnesota. We were awed when he brought his act to Boston and did the same over a surreal 97-game stretch last season; a series of extended encores punctuated by a world championship. And we were grateful when a long-suffering basketball town was returned to its rightful perch atop the hoops world.
Now, with 14 years and well over 1,000 games under his belt, it appears his heart and passion for the game have proven to be more enduring than the knees entrusted with carrying all that extra weight, literal and otherwise.
There are still no reports of structural damage in his injured right knee, just a career’s worth of wear and tear of the highest degree. (Seems like the term “wear and tear” grossly understates the matter, no?) He hasn’t been officially ruled out of the entire Playoffs, but it’s probably wise to keep expectations at a minimum going forward.
It’s tough not to be down at this point. When KG was healthy, the defending champs—spurred by an historic 27-2 start—were the story of the league.
Yet not long after that run, the main plot of 2008-2009 season shifted away from the Celtics and towards Lebron and Kobe, Cleveland and LA. Garnett went down, the Cavs were unbeatable at home (falling only to LA), and the Lakers had wrapped up the West before MLK Day.
While Cavs-Lakers was accordingly billed as the surest Finals since, well, Lakers-Celtics, and would’ve had a good chance of happening even if KG was healthy, it’s a damned shame the Green won’t get a real shot at defending their crown. Anyone who tells you Cavs-Celtics would've been a foregone conclusion with Garnett back is full of it.
Garnett’s loss is a striking blow to a team that wore the championship belt and bullseye all year, battled multiple injuries throughout, integrated new players, and still emerged with 62 victories. It was an admirable first chapter to the team’s first title defense since 1987. Now, with the end game pretty much determined, all that’s left to see is how it concludes.
I don’t think it’s optimistic to believe the Celtics will fulfill their end of the bargain and give Lebron the rematch he’s wanted—albeit under different circumstances.
This team has dealt with a ton of adversity. In addition to Garnett being sidelined for 25 games, key reserves Leon Powe (12 games), Tony Allen (36 games), and Brian Scalabrine (43 games) all missed significant time. That enabled Glen Davis to grow into his skin and helped accelerate the transition for newcomers Mikki Moore and Stephon Marbury.
Add to that Rajon Rondo’s emergence as an elite point guard and Kendrick Perkins’ continued development (both enter the playoffs as unquestionably better players than last year), and there is a solid and experienced supporting cast around the now Big Two, who are not to be forgotten.
Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are among the proudest players in the game and will make it their personal mission to carry this team as far as they can. Even with rings—and Pierce with a Finals MVP—both can vividly recall the days when they were some combination of underestimated and underappreciated.
Allen has been channeling Jesus Shuttlesworth since last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. He will take it up a notch.
As for Pierce, let’s just say a lot of people didn’t take him seriously last year when he proclaimed he was the best player in the world. He may have overstepped a bit, but after manning up and dismissing Lebron and Kobe on the biggest stage, his point held water.
For the two most important months of the 2007-2008 season, Paul Pierce was the best player in the world. He’s always relished having something to prove; the greats always do. Now he does (again).
The Celtics likely won’t make it back to the promised land without their leader, but that doesn’t change the fact that the belt is theirs until somebody rips it off them.
Knowing this team and its coach, knowing Allen and the reigning Finals MVP, I wouldn’t bank on anyone not named Lebron or Kobe taking the honors.