If, by chance, the Boston Celtics go on to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals to win the championship, it will be one of the most amazing sports stories in the past 50 years.
That's right. A Celtics title would be way up there on the list of extraordinary accomplishments for all team sports. I think basketball writers are waiting before they make claims like I just did. Many B-ball observers are still stunned the Celtics knocked off the Cleveland Cavaliers and are playing with a focus not seen for their entire season. Hey, I know millions of basketball fans hate the Celtics. They're still sick of them for assorted reasons.......but, no one can deny that the Celtics are on a unique path right now. They're doing something that happens about once every 20 years: They're playing MUCH better in the playoffs than they did all year - and, that feels like an understatement.
Sure, I've seen baseball teams play mediocre ball in September and go on to win the World Series, (Witness the New York Yankees, who did that about ten years ago) but, I'm sorry, folks: this Celtics' run is unlike anything I can remember as a sports fan. Why?
Because a few short weeks ago, the Celtics stunk. They stunk. They were playing horribly, and, worse, they appeared to be not even trying that hard. In fact, this Celtics team played a lot of bad games in their entire second half of the 2009-10 season. They lost to teams like the New Jersey Nets and had people scratching their heads or just plain disgusted.
Yet, at the same time, their "Big Three" of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were never all healthy at the same time. Garnett was a much less effective player for much of the year and talk radio callers were giving up on the Cs' chances. Pierce had an array of injuries and ailments. Rasheed Wallace, acquired in an off-season deal to bolster the team, played badly all year long.
Then, as spring came, there were a few signs that something "different" might be unfolding. Lebron James and the Cavaliers crushed the Celts in a regular season game, and, afterward, James remarked that the Celtics seemed "bored." People speculated they were waiting for the playoffs. They didn't seem to care about their regular-season record.
Coach Doc Rivers spoke about trying to conserve his veteran players's strength. Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy was in a tiny minority when, a couple of months ago, he predicted the Celts would "flip the switch" and end up winning the championship despite all the bad signs.
I don't always agree with Shaughnessy, but, I have to give him credit on that prediction right now.
The Celtics, so far, have defied all the odds. They've jarred the basketball media and fans who said they didn't have a prayer. First, they knocked off the Miami Heat. Then, in an incredible showing, they decisively defeated the Cavaliers and Lebron James. Rajon Rondo, the Celts' point guard, is showing the country what Boston fans have seen all year - i.e. That he's one of the best point guards in the NBA, and, to many, the Celtics' most valuable player -- ahead of Pierce, Garnett and shooting guard, Ray Allen.
I did not watch the Celtics for most of the season. I have not followed the NBA much since the Bird-Magic days. I think that games are often boring - as players make too many one-on-one moves or take three-point shots instead of passing the all around - which is so much more fun to watch. However, I watched enough of the Cs to know they were not that good a team in the second half.
I've been in awe of what the Celtics have showed in the playoffs so far. They look like a different team - and, I mean, different. I've felt like I'm having an hallucination. The Celtics are hungry, hustling and playing together more. How could they be THIS different?
Garnett somehow, some way, is playing by far his best basketball of the year. He improved despite his nagging knee injury. How often does a player improve significantly from the effects of an injury like that? Pierce, while not as consistent as in 2008, looks rejuventated and has played terrifically in some key playoff games. Ray Allen, who the Cs were considering trading a few months ago, is shooting as well as ever. Rondo is emerging as a unique point guard. Not only does he "quarterback" the team with fantastic on-court vision and decisionmaking, but he hustles in special ways: How many 6' 1" guards get as many big rebounds? Answer: I've never seen any guard at Rondo's height do this - ever.
The Celtics are playing with a zeal and focus for 48 minutes a game. They didn't come close to that all year. Obviously, the veterans want another ring badly and their younger teammates have the same "fever."
Reports have surfaced about "chemistry problems" that existed between the younger and older, veteran players on the team during the year. More specifically, the speculation has been that it took the veterans quite a while to hand over control of the team, in earnest, to Rondo.
Not only am I shocked the Celtics are on the verge of playing the Lakers in the Finals, but, I am shocked to be sitting here believing they have a chance. I do believe it now. I think it's still definitely against the odds. I think the Lakers have more talent and should win. But, this Celtic team is on a special mission - and, they may pull off an incredible upset.
That's one reason I love sports. I love when the underdog team wins. Yes, my favorite underdog win was the Red Sox 2004 comeback vs. the NY Yankees after they were down 0-3 and losing going into the 9th against Mariano Rivera.
I loved it when Kirk Gibson came off the bench to hit the heroic home run off Dennis Eckersley in the World Series. I loved it when Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman when no one gave him a chance. I loved it when the New England Patriots knocked off the St. Louis Rams in Tom Brady's first Super Bowl. I loved it when the 1967 Red Sox, after finishing in 9th place in 1966, had their "Impossible Dream" year and won the pennant on the last day of the season thanks to the non-stop heroics of Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Lonborg and then took the more talented St. Louis Cardinals, with Bob Gibson, to the 7th game of the World Series before losing.
I won't go on, but, I think people are not "getting it" about this Boston Celtic team. Despite all the Celtics' championships through the years and all their great players, this particular team, in many ways, has no business reaching the moment they're about to --- heading into the Finals.
This team doesn't have the youth, talent or consistency that other teams had in 2009-10. They have suddenly racheted up the quality of their play radically and are shutting down the league's best teams with their old smothering defense. The Celtics seem to be "turning back time."
If they go all the way, it will be one of the most improbable things I've ever seen in sports - period.