A few years ago, in the midst of the Red Sox magical post-season run, Bob Ryan wrote something like he felt like an Oscar winner who had not prepared a speech because he had not expected to win any award. I forget if this was after winning it all or after beating the Yankees, but this is how I feel today.
Not that I thought the C’s were going to lose. I did think they would win. It is just that I forget how it feels to watch the NBA’s most storied franchise hoist the championship trophy. Sure, I was 8 in 1981, 11 in 1984, and 13 in 1986, but that was different. I knew no better and I knew no different.
To me, the C’s at worst would be in the NBA’s Final Four every year. They made the Finals in 1987 and lost, made the Eastern Conference Finals in 1988 and lost, then Bird got hurt, and though he remained a great player, the C’s never seriously contended for a title again until 2002, when they made a somewhat improbable run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
So suffice to say, this is an odd feeling for us Celtics fans, somewhat similar to the Patriots winning Super Bowl 36. Danny Ainge put this team together over the past several years, but this year’s team was going to be so different. People knew it would be good, but how good?
Garnett, Pierce, and Allen were great players, but as these three pointed out in pre-season, they had not done anything yet. The Celtics started the season hot, winning their first eight games, and eventually going 26-3 as they headed into 2008. However, around the NBA, lot of people had their doubts.
Let’s see what happens when they play some better teams they said. Adding let’s see what happens when they go on the road. Along with the doubts, how the team would fare against the Detroit Pistons and the three powerhouses in Texas.
Let’s see what happens when the playoffs start. Let’s see what happens when they lose a home playoff game. To their credit, this team never used the “No one believed in us” slogan that is thrown around like Frisbees at a cookout by every athlete nowadays. They kept their eyes on the goal, and knew that they had not won anything yet, and did not deserve the same credit given to former champions like the Spurs.
They knew they had to go out and earn it. Sure enough they did. Kevin Garnett told the fans that sometimes, it would not be pretty, and he was right. It showed when they went to seven games with the lowly Atlanta Hawks, only to destroy them in the final tilt. Being taken to the distance by the Lebron-led Cavs was not quite as embarrassing, but what kind of title contender could not win on the road?
The whispers about the road problems got louder and louder, and when Detroit won Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Boston, the team knew it had to win on the road if they wanted to get where they wanted to go. They played a superb Game 3 in Detroit, saw a huge lead dwindle down to 3, but held on for a huge Game 3 win.
They lost Game 4, but did not lose again to the Pistons, winning in Detroit to go to the Finals for the first time since 1987. We all know the rest, and the C’s are champions. However, the amazing thing about the doubters is that this team, for the most part, did not give anyone a reason to doubt.
They got off to the fast start, were the best team in the NBA all year long, clinched home court advantage with weeks to go in the season, and they won 7 more games than anyone else in the league. Still there were questions right up until the end. In addition, the C’s responded in Game 6 with their best game of the season.
The C’s left no doubt in the final game, and the Lakers had to be thinking it would have been better to have lost a close Game 5 than to be absolutely humiliated on national TV in Game 6.
But I think that like the 1986 Celtics, who felt ashamed after losing Game 5 in Houston (KC Jones said he had to end the day-off practice because he was afraid the players were going to hurt each other), the 2008 Celtics came out and, one through eleven (for some reason Sam Cassell did not play on Game 6), played on a mission from the opening tip, and were able to start celebrating with lots of time left on the clock.
To the team, thank you. You have restored Celtics Price, and to me, more importantly, made the Celtics relevant again, on par with the Red Sox and Patriots in this sports crazy town. Thank you, Danny, thank you Doc (I had my doubts about you, but you proved me and many others wrong), thank you to the entire team who has made Ubuntu part of common speaks in these parts.