How a Healthy Spurs and Celtics Would Have Changed the '09 Playoffs

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How a Healthy Spurs and Celtics Would Have Changed the '09 Playoffs
(Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Growing up, it was bad manners to raise "what if" questions in my folks' house; either that, or my parents just got annoyed because I was the kind of kid who could string queries like that together endlessly.

Despite my training to refrain, I can't resist raising one right now, in the middle of a lackluster NBA Finals series, what if San Antonio and Boston had been healthy going into the 2009 playoffs?

Manu Ginobili and Kevin Garnett all went down before the playoffs. All right around the same time, too. It was obvious that their teams were never the same because of their injuries.

I took a look at the numbers just for the sake of having more concrete frame of reference.

Manu started the year hurt, and the Spurs got off to a modest 6-4 start until he debuted. They then went 29-12 with him before he got hurt shortly before the All-Star break.

From mid-February to mid-March, the Spurs just kept their heads above water, going 11-8 without their sixth man. He eventually returned at half-speed; in the six games he played in late March and early April, his club went 3-3. They were actually better without him in the twilight of the regular season; once he called it, they managed five wins in their last six games.

KG first missed time for his knee problem on February 22, the day the Celtics improved to 45-12 overall. In the '07-'08 season he had been the key component of his team's hot start, which included a commanding 27-2 record, that finally got just a touch worse on Christmas Day.

Boston racked up a relatively paltry 7-6 mark over the month that the "Big Ticket" missed. He returned only to wrap up his season early in four weak-looking games. The Celtics did close 11-2, but there was still a question as to whether they were Eastern Conference favorites going into the playoffs. 

It was there that the two powerhouses felt the absence of their guys. I mean, fact of the matter is, neither team was horrible during the campaign when functioning with just two-thirds of their trinity. The Spurs dropped from a 68-percent win clip to a 66 percent average, and the Celts from a 79 to 76. It wasn't until the postseason that the intangibles that 'Blee and "the Manchild" were truly missed.

The Spurs' demise was practically convulsive, as they collapsed against a Dallas Mavericks team that never looked serious all season. To lose to such a collection of disparate parts, and in such short fashion seems enough, but allow me to add insult to injury.

Those same hapless Mavericks out-rebounded(37.6 to 41.4), out-passed(16 to 17.2), out-blocked(3 to 4.6), out-stole(5.6 to 7.2), out-shot(45.7 percent to 46.3), and out-scored(90.4 to 96.4) the Spurs. Yes, Dallas dominated every statistical category, and no one besides Tony Parker or Tim Duncan showed up.

Boston certainly put up more of a fight, but I think we all knew a repeat wasn't in the cards after they dropped Game 1 at home to the Chicago Bulls, who finished 21 games behind the C's in the regular standings.

The fans certainly appreciated that both series the Celtics were involved in went to seven games, and I speak for all of us when I thank them and Chicago for a classic first-round matchup. Still, I doubt Chowds would be too thrilled to remember how up-and-down Paul Pierce was and how much Rajon Rondo had to step up to get them as far as they got.

But now it comes down to it; boldly, I'll answer the question that you've wanted answered since you clicked to my article.

How would the 2009 Playoffs have been different had San Antonio had a healthy Ginobili and Boston a healthy KG?

The Spurs would have beaten the Mavericks in the first round, probably in six. Dallas has lost the defensive aggression they had under Avery Johnson back in '06, when they actually beat San Antonio, and now have even fewer guys who can keep up with the Argentine.

They would have then lost to the Nuggets in seven. Yes, the boys in baby blue would have finally taken down their Goliath, but only because they're a much deeper team than they have been in previous matchups. Saying that San Antonio is too old to do anything anymore is foolishness, but they could not have run with the young bucks of Denver.

The Celtics would have taken out Chicago in five, though the postseason would have been worse because of it. There is simply nothing about the Bulls interior game that compares to Boston's when Garnett is on the court. Derrick Rose would have played as well as he did, but the attention would not have been on his duel with Rondo, but rather the utter devastation Garnett wrought on both ends.

Then the green-clad Beantowners would have taken out Orlando, and it would have been a six-game series too. Once again, the Boston post game with Garnett active would have been the difference, as Dwight Howard would have been controllable on offense and in foul trouble quick.

Plus, there's that whole "playoff experience" thing, and it would have mattered regardless of what Stan Van Gundy says.

The train to back-to-back titles would only have been derailed by the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals. It's tough to say that Orlando beat Cleveland only because they presented a unique matchup problem, via Dwight and their inside-out game, but that was exactly the reason we didn't see a Kobe-LeBron Finals.

And so the end result of the Spurs and Celtics being at full strength for the '09 Playoffs would have been King James, who came oh-so-close to beating the Celtics last year, would be making their second championship series appearance in three years.

So if you're bitter, Cleveland residents, and I know I would be, blame it on an Atlantic Division forward's knee.

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