June 3, 2010

Bob Ryan spoke, in Boston Globe, about just one of the incentives that drives this Celtics team.
“Sam won 10. K.C., Heinsohn, Satch, and Havlicek won eight. Frank Ramsey and Jungle Jim Loscutoff won seven. Cooz won six. Nellie and Siggy won five.
Sharman won four.
Russ won 11, which is, of course, sick.
Larry, Kevin, and The Chief won three.
Cowens and Jo Jo won two.
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen have won one championship apiece, and don’t think they aren’t acutely aware of that number.
One is nice, but getting multiple rings is necessary if you’re going to secure your desired spot in this team’s history.
“I ran into Michael Jordan after we won last time,’’ Allen said, “and he said that the first time you win is luck and after that you earn it. I don’t believe our winning it two years ago was luck, but he’s won six times, so I couldn’t argue with him.
“But I do think winning multiple times is important, because it proves it wasn’t a fluke, and it definitely shows your commitment, and your team’s commitment.’’
When the original Big Three won their first championship on May 14, 1981, Robert Parish was 27, Larry Bird was 24, and Kevin McHale was 23. When
they won their third and final title on June 8, 1986, McHale was 28, Bird was 29, and Parish was 32. Larry and Kevin were done winning championships
before they were 30, which is when the new Big Three were just getting started.
When the second Big Three won their championship on June 17, 2008, Allen was 32, Garnett was 32, and Pierce was 30. Add two to those ages, and that’s
a big difference. Are these guys actually overachieving? Are they really supposed to be here? Would winning a second championship at ages 34, 34, and 32 be more impressive than anything the original Big Three ever did, especially if both championships came at the expense of the Lakers? It’s not easy to answer, but it’s a fascinating question to pose.
The two years since that first Allen-Pierce-Garnett championship have taken a toll. Allen has had moments of classic brilliance, but he’s also had some very quiet games. Pierce has had some magnificent playoff games, but he also had two full series worth of subpar performances. Garnett has not really had any classic Garnett games. What he’s done is have some games that were better than anything he did during the regular season, but not many of them. Everyone has come to expect less from him.
Garnett has seldom been willing to take charge offensively, anyway. Far too often, he is stubbornly, and maddeningly, deferential. It’s hard to come up with the name of any comparably great offensive player who so often passes up a good shot in order to give a teammate a lesser one. But his greatest value to the Celtics has been on the defensive end, and here he has been able to keep up his end of the bargain reasonably well.
What is undeniable now is how much they need each other. One major reason the Celtics are playing in their 21st NBA Finals, and second in this second Big
Three era, is the way they have played glorious team basketball at both ends of the court. When they fall off the track by ceasing to move the basketball and by not working hard to fulfill their defensive assignments, they can be beaten. Witness Cleveland 124, Boston 95, and that ugly Game 4 against Orlando (which, granted, they almost stole despite themselves).
But when they stick to the nightly game plan, they are very difficult to beat. In the first three series, no one would deny for an instant that the most imposing player on the floor was an opponent. But Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard will all be watching the Finals on TV because the Boston Celtics had the better T-E-A-M. Now comes the ultimate test. Kobe Bryant is on a Jordanesque roll.
So, yes, the Celtics know what’s ahead of them.
“Sure, I want this as much as I did two years ago,’’ said Garnett. “I’m hungry. I want this. We want this. We didn’t get here by luck, or the roll of the dice.
There are very, very, very few players who have had a chance like this. The fire’s still burning.’’
Of the Big Three, none have plugged themselves into the history of the franchise more than Pierce, an Inglewood native who still finds it hard to digest that he is a Boston Celtic and intends to retire as one.
“When I was 12 years old,’’ Pierce said, “I had basketball dreams. Who thinks things like this are going to happen? When you guys were 12, did you think
you were going to be a top sportswriter or broadcaster? You never know.
“I watched those Laker-Celtics series. They’re what got me interested in the NBA. But I never thought I’d be a Boston Celtic. Now I am a Boston Celtic.
And Havlicek comes around. Jo Jo comes around. I see Maxwell every day. Just to be a part of that history, I’m just soaking it all up.’’
He knows the math.
“A lot of guys have won one,’’ he said. “But all the great Celtics have won two, at least. I want to be mentioned in that group.’’
We can only watch. These guys can make it happen.”

Dan Shaughnessy, also of the Globe, looked at the series from the coache’s point of view.
“It’s all about Kobe.
We’ve had a lot of fun reliving the glory days of Wilt and Russell, Elgin and Hondo, Larry and Magic, and even KG and Pau Gasol from two years ago.
We’ve hammered the themes of the uber-rivalry, LA’s redemption, and Ubuntu Redux.
In succession, we’ve seen the Celtics expose and demolish Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard in the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Now it’s all about Kobe Bryant. Do not forget this.
The Celtics and Lakers tap off in Game 1 tonight, and it’s impossible to understate the Kobe factor. Bryant won’t admit it, but he is on a mission to solidify his legacy by winning a championship against the hated Celtics. He has won with Shaq and without Shaq. He has beaten the Indiana Pacers, the Philadelphia 76ers, the New Jersey Nets, and the Orlando Magic in the Finals. But he’s never beaten Boston.
You can’t be the best player in the world if you lose two championship series to the Celtics. You can’t be the greatest Laker of all time if Magic can say he
beat the Celtics twice in the Finals and you never beat them.
Kobe has had one shot at beating Boston, and he remains haunted by 2008, when he shot only 40 percent in the six-game loss to the Green. He made only 7 of 22 shots in the humiliating clincher and walked off the court in silent fury after the 39-point drubbing. Now he is back and he is a man on a mission.
Bryant scored 37 points when Los Angeles won the Western Conference finals at Phoenix in Game 6 Saturday night. In the fourth quarter, he made several
shots while wearing a couple of defenders.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that this is one of the great playoff performances,’’ said Zen Master Phil Jackson, who witnessed a few great individual playoff performances when he coached Michael Jordan. Bryant is playing with the eyes of Dexter.
In the seconds after he destroyed the Suns Saturday, Bryant was asked what he was going to do about teammate Sasha Vujacic’s foolish flagrant foul, which almost put the Suns back in the game.
“I was going to kill him,’’ Bryant said, not cracking a smile.
No, really, asked TNT’s Craig Sager, what are you guys going to do about it?
“I’m still going to kill him,’’ Bryant said again, adding, “I’m just kidding, of course.’’
When reporters revisited the topic Sunday, Bryant said, “He’s still breathing.’’
Kobe has been short with his answers since it became clear the Lakers were going to play Boston. He won’t give anyone the satisfaction of hearing that he’s still smarting from ’08.
“They challenged us in the Finals a couple of years ago,’’ he said. “Now this is a test to see how much we’ve grown.’’
Challenged? That’s an interesting characterization. The Celtics embarrassed the Lakers in ’08. They embarrassed Bryant. Paul Pierce was named MVP of the series, then went around telling everyone that he, not Kobe Bryant, was the best player in the world.
“I didn’t give a damn who we played, didn’t matter to me,’’ Bryant insisted Saturday night.
Baloney. This is Bryant’s Bill Belichick imitation — pretend that beating the Jets is no different than beating the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Kobe wore his obtuse face again yesterday. He was asked about the history of the matchup with the Celtics and said, “I only think about this one matchup.
The happy times of Magic winning against Boston or the sad times of Jerry West losing to them has no impact on me whatsoever. I have a series to play. I have a series to win. I’ll just focus on that.’’
The reporter tried again with, “Is this a special matchup in your mind, though?’’
Just another Finals, in other words. No different than playing the Nets or Magic.
Not true. Kobe Bryant has won four NBA championships. He has logged 44,000 NBA minutes and played more than 1,200 games. He is the son of Joe “Jellybean’’ Bryant, who played eight years in the NBA. He is a smart man with a sense of his place in hardwood history. He measures himself against the ghost of Jordan and the emergence of LeBron.
It can’t be any fun to see LeBron win back-to-back MVPs when you think you are still the best player in basketball. And it can’t be any fun going into
retirement hearing, “He could never beat the Celtics in the Finals.’’
Take the rest of the story lines and put them in your back pocket. Starting tonight, it’s all about Kobe.
I think that Ron Artest will be the deciding factor in the series; can he contain Pierce?


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