NBA 2011 Playoffs: Heat Can Take Celtics Series but Can't Take Boston Pride
In 1987, I was just a one-year-old. I lived in a small town outside of Boston. Home videos show me playing outside with my toy dump truck on my first birthday.
While my mom is happily laughing with her friends, the camera pans out. In the background are my dad, my uncle and his friends surrounding a radio listening to Game 1 of the NBA Finals—the game where James Worthy and Larry Bird were lighting up the goals and the game was going back and forth.
Although Boston lost the game and eventually the series, I firmly believe in some way those radio waves gave me my first injection of Celtic Pride.
The '90s were miserable for Boston. My family had moved to Charlotte, NC, and Boston struggled to get past the first round of the playoffs and in most years struggled to even make the postseason. I was trying to cheer for a team that had Dino Radja, Dee Brown and Pervis Ellison (rolls eyes), while the team of the city I was living in was getting stars like Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson and Glen Rice.
Charlotte was flourishing as a city and a franchise, as the Hornets were beating the Celtics in the first round and giving the Bulls great playoff matches. It was hard not to root for the Hornets, which is why they are still one of my favorite teams. But I still followed the Celtics, still watched the games (although most weren't televised due to their horrible records) and still believed that sooner or later they'd get that team again.
Then came Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker and Walter McCarty. Combined with a past his prime Kenny Anderson and a promising rookie—now the highest-paid player in the NBA, Joe Johnson—Boston was finally able to break its playoff drought and bust into the Eastern Conference Finals in 2002.
At this time I had moved to Indiana, but the hope was stronger than ever, and Paul Pierce was showing us why it was a good idea to pick him up. He was helping the Celtics run through everyone in the NBA not named Jason Kidd or Reggie Miller and company. Unfortunately, it was those two teams that ultimately became the roadblocks for the early 2000 Celts. That's not to say they weren't amazing games.
So here I was, rooting for the Celtics, while living in a state where the home team was laying the smack down on us.
In 2007, another blow to our collective green heart came, as we had our worst season in a long time. It just didn't make sense. Delonte West was decent, and Paul Pierce was thriving; we had big Al Jefferson and sharpshooter Wally Szczerbiak, and defensive stopper Tony Allen was even averaging double digits. We had Doc Rivers fresh off COY status, yet we had one of the worst records in the league.
Things were just wrong. The Celtics just had their second-worst season in franchise history. Was hiring Danny Ainge a mistake?
How does the Celtics future look?
That question was immediately answered when Ainge brought Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce together with center Kendrick Perkins, young guard Rajon Rondo and a supporting cast of defenders and excellent role players. With this he brought Boston its first championship in over 20 years.
Boston steamrolled the league with 66 wins, and although there were a few scares in the playoffs between the eighth-seeded Hawks and LeBron James, no one really expected anything other than a championship. I was bleeding green at full strength and ready for more titles.
2009 and 2010 were heartbreaking postseasons but showed no lack of glory, as the Celtics played in one of the best seven-game series of all time with the Chicago Bulls. After a tiring series like that, I don't know that any team could have gone on past the second round, especially a team that had lost its best defensive player in Kevin Garnett to injury.
2010 showed the brains of Doc Rivers. He knew his team could win anywhere at any time, so he sacrificed seeding for health and rest and still managed to bring a healthy Boston team to the Finals.
In Game 6, my heart jumped into my throat as we had a 3-2 lead on the Lakers. Perkins had gone down. He was done for the series. Even with Rondo playing like Magic Johnson, our lack of big men just couldn't handle a Laker team that had dominated all season. We failed in seven.
Which brings me to this season and the future. This season it was all about 18. At least, that's what my Paul Pierce background says. Kevin Garnett has healed, and although showing his age occasionally, he is back to being an amazing defender and a dominant presence. Ray Allen is having his best shooting season ever. Paul Pierce is consistently dominating, and Rajon Rondo could be the next John Stockton or Jason Kidd. We were blowing past everyone.
Then Danny Ainge decided that it was time to start planning for the future; we had a great core, and we had to solidify it for the years to come. Perk wouldn't take less to be part of the bigger picture. He was a monster in the paint and wanted to be paid for it. So off he went to OKC, where his presence in the paint to match up with the Lakers seems futile considering Dallas just offed them.
We got Jeff Green, who will most certainly become a thriving young forward, and Nenad Krstic, who will most certainly be traded this offseason.
Now we are down 3-1 to a thriving, young, hungry Miami team that has accepted the "villain" role in the NBA. Most likely things aren't going to go our way. We have no true starting center. Our veterans are strong but equally banged up. Our young point guard almost bent his arm in two pieces in Game 3. Our bench just isn't producing the way we want it to. Our sixth man disappeared in the playoffs.
So yes, we are down 3-1, but if there is a team that can come back to do it, is there really anyone but this Celtics team to do it? Is there really anyone in these playoffs with more battle scars and more heart? Even my friends that are Lakers and Heat fans are laying down their impressed feelings for this Boston team that is on its last leg, within one game of an Avengers disassembling.
Maybe it will end. Maybe (and probably) the Celtics will lose and start making those big moves to go after more pieces toward another championship. Maybe the team will collapse and we won't win for another 20 years. Maybe it's time for the heroes and villains of my growing up, like Garnett, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, to hang up the shoes and let the new guys have their turn.
But maybe not, and as someone that can speak for all of those that bleed green, I don't think there's another NBA fanbase that loves its team as much as Boston fans love the Celtics.
No matter what year it is, it will always be about 18.
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